In a modern twist of fairy tales, what if the beast is a woman instead of a man?
I was about to find out when a mysterious job led to the secluded home of a horror novelist. I’d lost everything: my scholarship, my education, and my way. In denial of my family inheritance, I took the unusual employment as a chance out of a hole, but I found myself buried in the unknown trauma of another situation much deeper.
I had changed my name and my address to keep myself hidden, but my scars were more than physical. Living as a recluse in the woods, I was used to being alone, so I wasn’t happy when a certain someone was always in my space. Our first encounter was less than pleasant and tension continued at every attempt to tame me.
I knew she was keeping secrets and I wanted to help, but she was cutting me down and cutting me off every time she opened her mouth. Our frustration with one another grew until a misunderstanding changed everything. How can I be the next guy after something so tragic? It was a challenge I wasn’t sure I was willing to take.
I knew I was taking the dirt road a bit fast, but I felt exhilarated with the prospect of my new job. It sounded simple. Cook. Live in the woods. Keep a secret. Easy. My thoughts were screaming a song in my head about freedom when I turned one of those unexpected curves in the winding drive and pulled up short in front of a girl.
I noticed her hair immediately. It was brown with reddish tints, like a perfect combination of brilliant fall leaves wild and blowing in the September afternoon air. A storm was definitely coming and I was mesmerized for a moment as the startled girl looked up at me. I couldn’t slam on the brakes of my motorcycle without flying over the handlebars, so I slowed as best I could and skidded to a halt inches before her.
“Jesus Christ,” I yelled over the dulling roar of the cycle as I yanked off my helmet, releasing my own set of wild waves. The girl was frozen like a deer in headlights looking back at me. Her bright blue eyes pierced my own deep brown ones.
“Are you okay?” I asked as I squinted with concern. She turned her head just the slightest bit and I noticed a horrid scar down the right side of her face. Three long gashes dragged down her cheek and neck, ending under her white tank top. Her bright highlighter-orange shorts and the earbuds in her ears made it obvious she had been out for a run. I flicked my glance from her scar to the shorts and back to her hair. I didn’t want to stare at her face. I knew how much I hated it when people stared at Mum and her bald head from chemotherapy. The girl’s tongue sneaked out to wet her pink lips and she bit her bottom one slightly.
I opened my mouth to speak again, but the girl bolted for the woods. She propelled herself through the greenery and disappeared before I could get off the bike. I had no idea where she went due to the thickness of the trees and shrubs. Shaking my head as if I had seen a mirage, I sat back on the motorcycle, returned my helmet to my head, and roared the bike back to full life, taking the road more slowly as I exited Winters Trail.
I’d like to say I was always a writer. I’d also like to say that I wrote every day of my life since a child. That I took the teaching advice I give my former students because writing every day improves your writing. I’d like to say I have my ten-thousand hours that makes me a proficient writer. But I can’t say any of those things. I did dream of writing the “Great American Novel” until one day a friend said: Why does it have to be great? Why can’t it just be good and tell a story?
As a teenager, I wrote your typical love-angst poetry that did occasionally win me an award and honor me with addressing my senior high school class at our Baccalaureate Mass. I didn’t keep a journal because I was too afraid my mom would find it in the mattress where I kept my copy of Judy Blume’s Forever that I wasn’t allowed to read as a twelve year old.
I can say that books have been my life. I’m a reader. I loved to read the day I discovered “The Three Bears” as a first grader, and ever since then, the written word has been my friend. Books were an escape for me. An adventure to the unknown. A love affair I’d never know. I could be lost for hours in a book.
So why writing now? I had a story to tell. It haunted me from the moment I decided if I just wrote it down it would go away. But it didn’t. Three years after writing the first draft, a sign (yes, I believe in them) told me to fix up that draft and work the process to have it published. That’s what I did. But one story let to another, and another, and another. Then a new idea came into my head and a new storyline was created.
I was accused (that’s the correct word) of having an overactive imagination as a child, as if that was a bad thing. I’ve also been accused of having the personality of a Jack Russell terrier, full of energy, unable to relax, and always one step ahead. What can I say other than I have stories to tell and I think you’ll like them. If you don’t, that’s okay. We all have our book boyfriends. We all have our favorites. Whatever you do, though, take time for yourself and read a book.