I’m currently ankle deep in writing Shadowland. I say ankle because I’ve only just written 15,000 odd words. That’s a long way from the 100,000+ that I’m hoping to round out with.
I have a completion date of 30 June for it. If I keep writing at the rate I was this morning, I will finish writing it in August. This is not good. (It’s my own deadline, no responsibility to anyone else except for my one or two readers. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make it. Because it’s also a promise to me. And you should never break promises to yourself. After all, if you can’t keep a promise to the most important person in your world*, how can you ever expect to keep a promise to anyone else?) But I digress. I meander, I wander off-topic like a puppy following a scent who looks up and realises he has no idea where he is anymore.
So I’ve written 15,000 odd words of Shadowland. And, unfortunately, I discovered last Thursday that I wasted over 2,000 of these words re-introducing a character from the first book who is, in fact, dead.
And he is dead. He’s not one of these “Is he? Isn’t he? We didn’t see the body” kind of dead. He basically blew up right in front of our eyes.
And I forgot. I forgot I’d killed him off and I wasted 2 and a half days bringing him back into the story.
So my lesson for today is; When you are writing a sequel to one of your works, make sure you at least know which characters are and aren’t dead. As the writer and basically God of our universe we should at least know that, right?
Presented now, for your eyeballs’ pleasure, is 2,000 odd words of Shadowland that will never make it to final cut. Bear in mind it’s a bit rough, both in form and content – there’s a few very choice words in there – and some doubling back to rewrite parts of the story. But it’s an interesting little peak behind the curtain for those of you who are into peeking behind curtains.
Shadowland – The Return of Neil
There were enough abandoned cars sitting about the streets of Casino now that one more battered old Valiant was hardly likely to attract attention. One with two weird looking dudes perched in the front seat like the end of the most awkward first date ever might attract slightly more but it was unlikely. Apart from the cops, still plugging away at their mostly futile investigation, it was unlikely anyone else was going to come walking by.
Ben and Shade had pulled up across the road and slightly down the street from the house in //Richmond st// that, technically, Ben still owned. He certainly hadn’t sold it, and even had he wanted to, there was absolutely nobody who’d be stupid enough to buy it. Not after the Shadoweaters had left their mark on the town.
“So you gave them your old address?” said Shade approvingly.
“Of course, “said Ben. “I’m not stupid enough to give them our real address.”
“I do wonder sometimes,” said Shade.
They sat scrunched down in the front seat of Ben’s car in the fading light of early evening. Traffic around here was next to nil but they were both very conscious of the fact that what was essentially an entire police force sat only a few blocks over from them. Ben would have thought they’d all go home at night but, as Shade reminded him, police cordons still needed men to police them. Otherwise they were just coloured ribbons strung across the road.
“We should have brought a board game or something with us,” moaned Ben. “I could go a good game of travel Guess Who. Hey, you want to play 20 questions?”
“No,” said Shade. “No, I don’t.”
“Well can I at least turn the radio on?” he said, reaching for the knob.
“Of course you bloody can’t,” snapped Shade, slapping his hand away.
“Jeez,” said Ben, rubbing his hand. “Anger issues much?”
They sat in silence for a little while then until Ben started rustling around between his feet, looking for something. There was a clink of glass and ice followed by a short pop and a hiss.
Shade turned slowly in his seat to stare at Ben. “You have got to be kidding me. You brought the beer?”
“What was I supposed to do?” said Ben. “Leave it sitting there for the ice to melt and it to go warm?” For punctuation he took a deep mouthful and let out a sigh of pleasure. “You want one?”
Shade sighed. “F**k it, why not?”
“That’s the attitude!” cried Ben happily. “Hope I brought enough,” he muttered, rummaging in the esky.
Shade took a big swig and sighed like a man having, well, like a man having his first beer of the day. “That’s pretty good,” he said, turning the bottle in his hand, admiring the green label. After a moment he said, “You know I am not at all confident we’re going to survive.”
Ben nodded. “You thought I had hopes we were going to somehow miraculously defeat a town full of Shadoweaters?”
“Two towns,” said Shade, smiling.
Ben laughed. “Cheers,” he said and they clinked bottles together. “You know, you should loosen up and have a beer more often. You’re more fun to be around.”
“You know I’m not ‘loosened up’ after one mouthful of beer, right?”
“I know, “said Ben. “But at least you’ve taken that stick out of your arse.”
“F**k you. Hey look, we might have some action.”
A car was creeping along the opposite side of the road, headlights off. From here Ben could make out the shadowy figures filling the vehicle. Shadowy in the traditional sense, of course. It was a fairly nice looking new BMW, no doubt paid for by exorbitant real estate fees. They couldn’t make out exactly how many of them were in the car. It could have been Just the two in the front seat or the back could be packed with another three, Ben couldn’t make it out in the gloom.
“You reckon that’s them?” said Ben.
“Who else do you think it would be?” said Shade.
“Pizza delivery?” said Ben hopefully.
“Shut up and be quiet” said Shade.
“Somebody’s an angry drunk,” muttered Ben as he scooched down lower in the seat.
The car pulled to a stop two houses back from Ben’s, he assumed to avoid alerting anyone in the house, and sat still, unmoving. After awhile the passenger side door opened and a man stepped out. He wasn’t carrying a baseball bat, which Ben thought was a good thing, but then he figured they probably didn’t really need weapons anyway. Ben wished he had a weapon.
“Do you recognise him?” whispered Shade.
“Nah. Could be anyone.”
He was dressed casually, jeans and a t-shirt, they probably had no real need to hide their identities. It wasn’t like they needed to worry about the cops if what Shade had said about them were true. Looking very shifty, he was glancing all around as if expecting to get caught at a moment’s notice, he made his way towards the front door in a manner that was anything but casual. When he was halfway to the door two other dudes climbed out of the back of the car and followed him. Ben and Shade watched in grim fascination, knowing that, had they still been there, or Ben was stupid enough to give them their real address, they could have been minutes away from losing the battle in a most decisive way.
The first dude stopped and stood in front of the door indecisively and looked around. He turned and looked back towards the car and the other two guys. The two guys said something to each other and Ben heard low laughter through his partly open window. One of them raised his hand to the first guy and simulated knocking. The first guy shrugged and knocked on the door.
“Jesus Christ,” muttered Ben. “Are we supposed to be scared of these guys or feel sorry for them?”
Shade said nothing and they went back to watching.
The dude knocked and, unsurprisingly, got no answer. Although Ben had to admit, he was kind of hoping someone might answer. The dude waited patiently as the other two guys climbed up the three short steps to Ben’s front door and awkwardly positioned themselves on the low stone walls on either side. Ben let out an exasperated sigh that was half laugh. As if he wouldn’t have spotted them the second he opened the door.
When there was still no answer the dude turned and looked between the other two guys. One of them held up his hands in the time-honoured ‘No idea’ gesture. He knocked on the door and continued to wait.
“I’m starting to feel we may be wasting our time here,” said Shade.
“No, hang on,” said Ben. “I feel like I’m about to see a 3 stooges skit.”
“We should have gone straight to the real estate office,” said Shade.
A car door slammed and scared the sh*t out of Ben. The driver of the car had decided he needed to step in. Dressed more stylish than his companions this guy looked a real boss. He wore a suit and, unlike the other three still wore his sunglasses. //close-cropped hair, familiar looking// He strode up the footpath and up to the front door and shoved the first dude out of the way. He stumbled back into the other guy who lost his balance and had to jump off the wall onto the lawn. The first dude muttered something and the boss whirled on him. Ben couldn’t quite catch all of it but he thought he heard the phrase, “Do your f**kin jobs”.
“Oh sh*t,” said Ben. A sick, heavy feeling moved into his chest and sat there like a stone. “Ohhh, sh*t sh*t sh*t. Sh*t on a biscuit.”
“What is it?” said Shade. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”
The suited boss leaned back and, shadows swirling about him, laid up and kicked the door down. This time Ben heard him clearly. “Honey? I’m home, b*tch!”
“That’s Neil,” said Ben. “It’s f**king Neil!”
Despite himself, Ben grinned, but it was a hard, mean little thing, like the skull of a particularly vicious chihuahua. At least he could savour the enjoyment of Neil being robbed of his great “Moment”. Big man, kicking down doors and all ready to kick arse and take names. Only there were no names to be taken. The four of them disappeared into the darkened house.
“We should go,” said Shade.
“Let’s wait a minute,” said Ben. “I want to see Neil’s reaction when he realises the house is empty.”
“I really don’t think so,” said Shade. “We’re not equipped to deal with these guys.”
“If they give us any trouble we’ll just flash em with the strobes. You brought them, right?”
“Did you pack them?” said Shade. “Or recharge the battery packs?”
“Then we did not bring them” said Shade.
“Oh,” said Ben. “Maybe we should go then.”
“Well that was a waste of time,” said Ben as they chased their headlights through the darkened countryside. He slumped in the passenger seat, sucking on his second – last cold stubby and thanking god he still had some in the fridge at home.
* * *
“We really should get out of here,” said Shade.
“Yeah, yeah. Just wait a minute,” said Ben. “I want to see the look on Neil’s face when he comes back out.”
“Does he know your car?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“So when he walks back out he’s probably going to look around and see your car. And if he even thinks, if there’s even the slight chance he thinks he recognises your car then what do you think he’s going to do?”
“Well if he comes over we just hit him with a burst from the strobes and take off. Too easy.”
“Which strobes would they be, Ben? The ones you recharged the batteries on and packed in the car?”
“Or the ones you did,” said Ben, pointing at him with his beer.
“So that would be a no,” said Shade. “Because the one job I left you of charging the batteries wasn’t done.”
“Sure,” said Ben. “Blame me for the one thing I didn’t do.”
“It was the ONLY thing you had to do,” said Shade. “Anyway, it doesn’t matter, we’re going.”
Shade started up the car and, like any conscientious driver, checked the road behind him for traffic before pulling out from the kerb. By the time he looked back Neil was leaping from the front door and staring around like a dog smelling a b*tch on heat. As the other three piled up in the doorway behind him Neil looked across the road and Ben knew as soon as he spotted him. A vicious grin broke across Neil’s face and he charged across the road at the car, his shadow billowing out around him like a cloud of smoke.
“Sh*t,” said Ben, locking his door and winding up his window. “Go! Go go go! F**kin run the c*** over!”
Shade whipped the car out into the street and jammed his foot on the accelerator. The car roared and lunged at Neil. Neil charged at the car and Ben clenched his beer bottle so hard it could break. As the car bore down on him Neil roared and leapt at the car, arms outstretched, teeth bared and eyes like the gaping skull sockets of a crazy man. At the instant of impact Shade’ s nerve broke and he jerked the car to the left, back towards the road. It was too little and too late but it was enough. Neil hit the right side of the bonnet, right in front of Shade. there was no crunch as he hit, just a sickening sound of a slab of meat hitting a lump of steel. Neil’s glasses flew off his face and clattered against the windscreen and, even as his body was warping and bending across the car he was still grinning, his shadow and his arms reaching out for Ben.
“See you soon, sweetie,” he yelled even as his head crunched sickeningly against the door post And he slipped down the side of the car. there was a bump as they ran over his arm or leg, or maybe even his head.
“Jesus,” said Shade as they accelerated down the street. “I feel like we should stop and check on him or something.” He was trying to look in the rear-view mirror and watch the road at the same time.
“F**k off,” cried Ben. “That was awesome!” He leant out the window and threw his empty bottle back at Neil who was already climbing to his feet. “Take that you boof-headed c***!”
Even as Shade and Ben reached the corner Ben saw that Neil was running back to the car to get in and follow them. The other three dudes were halfway back to the car as well. “You might want to step on it a little,” he told Shade. “They’re gonna be on our arse in a minute.”
“You want to get pulled up by the cops in this town?” said Shade but he pushed it to 55 anyway.
They were halfway across Irving Bridge, suspended high above the dirty brown streak of the Richmond River. “Hook a sharp left at the end of the bridge,” said Ben. “Hopefully we can hide out down there.”
He couldn’t see Neil’s car anywhere back down the road yet but he was just as sure he was there as he was of the nose on his face.
* I say this in the way that you are the most important person in your world because, without you, you no longer have a world. And all those wonderful and amazing people in your world won’t have you around to break your promises anyway.
** I thought awhile about whether or not to censor out the swear words in this excerpt but my work’s profanity filter made it a necessity.