Those who have read my books have often been surprised by a scene in A Twist of Light where a character called Steve is killed. That's right, I killed him and I didn't give him a sweet death; I gave him the death he deserved, the monster. The violence was totally out of character for me, by the way.
You see, I'm a really nice person. If someone is sick, I take over food. I know most of the kids and dogs in the village by their first name. If someone needs me, I'll drop everything to help, usually. I serve on three local non-profit boards, recycle all manner of things, try to keep my footprint small and support a boy in the Philippines through a charity. (One of my neighbors doesn't think much of me, but I could tell you a few things about her that would curl your hair.)
I was reared to be a good person. I come from a long line of good people, but the first time I held my newborn daughter, almost forty years ago, I knew that I had something else inside of me that my parents and the years of Sunday School hadn't been able to touch. The doctor put her in my arms and something primeval bubbled up. I wasn't overwhelmed with love, that would come the next morning, but I wanted to growl at anyone who came near her. I would have happily ripped out the neck of anyone who I perceived to be a threat to that wet, bloody thing in my arms.
For the record, I've never ripped out anyone's neck, but I have killed off a few characters. Usually I let them die in their beds, but Steve had to die hard, really hard. Steve was every bad boy I'd ever known. I was never really attracted to the bad boys, but I was certainly aware of them with their dirty finger nails and their low-slung jeans. Steve was every bad boy who made girls feel used and afraid to be themselves. Steve was every bad boy who made a girl nervous about walking by the lockers when he and his friends were watching her. Steve was the boy you didn't want to be in a room with by yourself, even if you sometimes you wondered what it would be like to be kissed by him. Steve was the boy who made you 'funny', but not in a good way.
Steve had to die.
The following is an excerpt from my novel A Twist of Light, published in 1997 by Little,Brown and reissued this year as an e-book.
Lizzy, a girl who sees the auras of others, and her sister Ellie have recently buried their alcoholic mother on the side of the river. Afraid that they will be separated if the authorities discover the woman's death, they have run away, but Ellie has insisted on bringing her boyfriend, Steve, along. Lizzie hates her sister's boyfriend, especially after she finds that Ellie is pregnant and she even begins to suspect that Steve may have had a hand in her mother's death.
They hole up in an abandoned cabin, but Steve becomes convinced that Lizzy will find a way to escape and take her now frightened sister with her. He steals their money, their car and locks the girls inside the shuttered cabin without food or water.
"What do you mean, 'if', Lizzy? Don't you think we can get away from Steve?" The girls had climbed under the sheet, their mouths three inches apart in the dark.
"Ellie, I mean if. Steve has locked us in the a cabin a million miles from nowhere. He's got our money and he's got our car. We have no food and no water. We can go for a long time without food, but we can't go for more than four days without water. If we don't make something change, we die."
"But the floor, Lizzy. We can dig through the floor."
"Yeah, we can dig through the floor, but not while he's around. Unless---, that could work. That could work." Lizzy giggled with relief. To her own surprise she grabbed Ellie and hugged he until the older girl pushed her away.
"Stop that Lizzy. Tell me what could work."
"You've seen it work on TV about a million times before. It's the oldest trick in the book. One of us starts ripping up the floor. It doesn't matter how much noise we make, the more the better. The other one hides behind the door and cracks his head open as soon as he walks in to see what all the racket is about. Once he's knocked out, we just step over him and start running down the hill."
"We'd have to get some clothes first."
"Duh, Ellie. That goes without saying. I don't think either of us want to run down a hill with our rosy red bottoms showing."
"Do you think it will work?"
"It sure beats waiting around to die of thirst."
"I want to be the one to hit him over the head." Ellie wiggled slightly with excitement.
"No, Ellie. We only have one chance to make this work. I'm afraid you might not hit him hard enough. You might get all mushy at the last second. I hate him more than I thought there was hate in the whole world. I wouldn't mind eating his eyeballs for a snack or picking my teeth with his pinkie bone."
"I think it must be my Viking blood. I want to hang him up and strip the skin off his body. There's nothing I could to him that would be bad enough. I don't even care if they send me to prison until I'm older than Mrs. Kirby. He's going to pay for what he's done to us."
"Tell me what you think we should do."
"First off, let's take apart one of the beds to make tools. We'll worry the wood a little to get it softened up. It's real spongy, s if we twist it some it should poke right through once you have a chance to make some real jabs at it.."
"Why do we need to do that? After you knock his block off he can't hurt us."
"I want that hole to be big enough for you to fit through by the time he's in the room. That way, even if I mess up and only slow him down, you can still be into the woods before he figures out what's going on."
"But then you might not get away. I can't let you do that."
""It's better that one of us gets away than both of us die here." Lizzy had read President Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage and knew this was exactly the kind of thing the man would want to hear when she met him. "Besides,if I don't get away you can send help back."
"I can't believe you'd do that for me."
"Ellie, I'd do anything for you, just like you'd do anything for me."
"Then if you can't stop him, I'll jump on him too. He's not as strong as he pretends to be and I know we could take him. If we surprise him, we can take him."
"Okay, Ellie. Can you promise you won't get all mushy and think about what a good kisser he is?
"He's not a very good kisser."
"Then why did you let him put his thing in you?" Lizzy thought the kissing part, at least, might be fun.
"Because he was something just for me. He wasn't a part of you or Mom. He was just mine, for me. I don't think I've ever had anything I didn't have to share." She was quiet for a moment. "I guess he wasn't the best choice."
"The best choice?" Lizzy whooped and began to laugh. "I hope I never see your bad choice."
"There you go again. Stop making me out to be the fool all of the time!" Ellie threw back the sheet as her voice rose. "I'm sick of you laughing at me and thinking you're so much better and smarter than me!"
"The door burst open with a reverberating thud that shook the whole cabin. "Stop it!" Steve stood in the doorway, the sun streaming behind him. "What are you doing?"
"We were just talking, Steve." Ellie grabbed the sheet and backed away from him as she tried to cover herself.
"I don't want the two of you talking about me." He walked over and grabbed Ellie's shoulder. "Do you understand?"
"Get your hands off my sister! Don't you ever touch her again." Lizzy grabbed for his leg and tried to pull him down.
He kicked her away, striking her in the face with the side of his foot. He reached for Ellie and threw her off the bed onto the floor. He stood over them, his breath coming in rasping gulps.
"This is the way it's going to be? I came in here to give you another chance and this is what I get? Bitches." He backed out of the door and slammed it shut. They could hear the bed being shoved back against the door.
Ellie began to shake. "Now he won't come in again. What are we going to do, Lizzy? We're going to die in here. He's going to let us die in here!" She wrapped her arms around her chest and began to rock herself back and forth.
"We start working on the floor, Ellie. It doesn't matter how much noise we make anymore. We dig up the floor and if he tries to stop us, we kill him with the tools we make from the bed. I'd love to stick something though his brain." Lizzy's hands twitched at the thought.
"It won't work. It won't work and we're going to die." Ellie was trying to curl herself into a ball on the bed.
"It won't work if we don't get started and it won't work if you're going to lie there like you're already dead. Get your fat butt up and show some spirit, Ellie!" She watched with satisfaction as the Ellie-ball unrolled and found that it still had legs.
"Before we try the floor, I think we should see if we could use this thing like a crowbar on the shutters." Using a discarded spoon as a screwdriver, Lizzy had been able to free the side bars from one of the beds.
"What do you mean?" Ellie sat on the floor where she had been wtching her sister work. Dark. half-moon had formed under her eyes.
"I mean maybe we can undo the shutters and get out through the window. It would be a lot easier and faster than the floor, if it works." She looked at her sister breifly and then looked closer. "Are you okay? Do you feel sick? You're putting off some funny colors." Ellies soft pink lights had shards of brown digging into the space around them.
"I'm just tired and I want to get this over with. Show me what to do." Ellise stood and looked at the side bars for the first time.
"We need to get these in the little space between the frame and the shutters. Then I think if we move them back and forth a little, we might get somewhere." Lizzy worked the side bar against the wood. " "It's moving Ellie, it's moving." She glanced towards the door. "Stand over these and let me know if you hear anything."
Ellie crept to the door and held her ear against the wood. She looked at her sister and shook her head. Lizzy signalled her back.
"Take this and and work on this side of the shutter. Try not to make any noise. It will be easier if we can get out of here without a fight."
The girls worked without speaking, but the wood creaked and groaned. The rusty nials could be hear scraping out of old pine shutters. Within minutes they could see light entering the room and glimpsed the ground under the window. Ellie gave a final shove and the shutter swung free. Steve stood under the window, a box of matched in his hand.
"I told you I wasn't going to take any more shit off of you two. I tried to warn you, but you wouldn't listen." He kicked a pile of dry pine needles and twigs next to the cabin. "Do you know it hasn't rained for four months up here? Middle of fire season, so nobody's gonna think nothing about one more fire. It'll get so hot your bones won't even be left." He lit a and passed his fingers through the flame as he grinned. "Just wanted to make sure it worked." He tossed the match on the pile.
A puff of greasy black smoke arose, then orange flames shot a foot above the pile and began to lick up the side of the cabin as Steve used a stick to spread the fire under the building.
Lizzy grabbed he sister and pushed her towards the window. "We've got to jump, now Ellie!"
"Oh Jesus, I'm too scared!" Ellie stared at the flames.
"Now Ellie, now! Put your knee on the sill and throw yourself out!" Lizzy pushed her sister's knee up and gave her a shove.
Ellie launched herself above the flames and rolled clear, scrambling to her feet. "Jump Lizzy! Come on!"
Lizzy hesitated and threw the side bars out the window towards Ellie. The flames cracked at the ledge and smoke rose in swirls. She felt a searing pain when tried to put her knee at the ledge on the windowsill. She closed her eyes and dived out the window as though she was once again diving into the the river. She fell to the ground, her mouth filling with fine, powdery dirt. Spitting she jumped to her feet and watched as Ellie picked up one of the side bars.
"You're right, Steve. Not even bones will be left." She pushed the side bar towards his face and he backed away from her, stumbling, the falling on his back. He lifted his head and started to speak. Ellie raised the side bar and hit him across the right cheekbone. He fell back, his head making a thudding sound against the hard ground.
Lizzy stared at the boy and poked his side with her bare foot. He let out a low groan. "Give me the bar, Ellie. I'll finish him off." She reached for the piece of iron.
"No. I'm going to do this." Ellie raised the side bar and drove it through Steve's left eye. His body shuddered for a moment and then lay still.
"Is he dead?" Lizzy leaned over to look at the boy lying in the dirt.
"He's dead." Ellie gazed at Lizzy in disbelief. "I killed him. I can't believe I killed him.
Lizzy pulled the side bar from the body and shoved it into the undamaged eye socket. "I killed him too." She examined the blood with satisfaction before turning away. "I think I'm going to throw up" She looked at the burning cabin behind them. "I think I'd better wait to be sick. We've got to get out here, fast."