Friday, June 24, 2011

Deleted Chapters (Westward Bound)

As I've been going through the editing process the last few months- what to cut, what to keep - it made me think back to when I did the same for Painless. 

Upon returning to the cutting room floor, what I found were some chapters that I wish I had kept in, some that deserved to be cut, but were still interesting as a sole entity and had some value, and some that were downright disasters of the "what was I thinking" variety. 

So I thought it might be interesting to post some of the worthwhile chapters. The plan is to post a couple chapters a week here at the blog (minus this long, boring intro). Sounds like a good summer Friday thing.

One little note of caution: I am posting them as they last were before they were cut, no additional editing or proofreading was done, so might be some rough patches. Also, once a change was made to Painless - ie. something or someone was cut - the story changed, and must compensate. So basically, not everything will be in perfect symmetry to the story in the final version of Painless.

Deleted Chapter #1 "Westward Bound"

Summary: In the book, when they escaped upstate NY using the Muddle Huddle (Chapter 65-72), they go directly to NC to try to get to Dr. Jordan. But in the original, they first trek westward looking to hideout while they ponder there next move. In doing so, they return to Billy's hometown of Johnstown, PA, and his return to his roots (and facing his past) helps him figure a way out of trouble. As is the case with their journey, they feel the stress of Operation Anesthesia closing in on them.

Why was it cut? Simply put - speed and pace. I liked this storyline, and thought it showed much insight into Billy, but it just didn't make sense with so little time at their disposal, to be doing anything but taking the most direct route to NC (where they though Beth and Chuck were) and Dr. Jordan (who they thought was the key to finding them).



They moved westward, facing more danger and than Lewis and Clark ever did. It certainly wasn’t the most linear route to Clarksville, but it was the one Billy was most familiar with, and right now home court was one of his few advantages.

But any comfort provided by their escape was tempered, knowing that it was just a matter of time before the
monster was once again on their heels, if they weren't already. And Billy knew they could come in any shape and size, and likely would strike when least expected. During a quick pit-stop at a rest area outside of Binghamton, New York, he even became suspicious of a grandmotherly looking woman. She had followed Dana and Carolyn into a bathroom, where Dana would help Carolyn “go potty,” check her wounded shoulder, and coax her into taking her fever medicine. For Billy, the couple minutes they were out of his sight felt like forty days in a desert without food. Too grandmotherly, he thought.

But his paranoia was just that. The grandmother was legit. But that didn't mean it would be the next time. When Dana and returned safely to his side, she whispered her fears that Carolyn’s gunshot wound might have become infected, which was complicated by the fact she didn’t have any of the body’s natural alarms to warn her. Her forehead was cool for now—no fever—but they knew they would have to get her some medical attention soon.

The good news was that her attitude was no longer infected, an assist to the magic powers of a nap. As nightfall began to spring over western Pennsylvania and the colorful fall foliage disappeared into the darkness, Billy noticed another a little too long of a look from a thirty-something couple in a Honda Accord. Weeks ago, he wouldn’t even have given it a second thought. He turned to Carolyn and decided to rely on her impeccable instincts to sort out the legitimate danger from the false positives.

“You see any dragons driving these cars, Carolyn?”

“Dragons don’t drive cars, silly.”

“Oh, okay—well, have you seen any dragons dressed as fireflies today?”

“Dragons don’t wear clothes.”

He did a thousand-yard-stare into the empty dark highway ahead of them. “Do dragons come out more at night?”

“Dragons are not nocturnal. Dracula is.”

He couldn't help but to laugh—he wasn't going to win this one. “Where’d you learn that big word?”

“My mom.”

He needed to get off the mom topic as soon as possible.
She’s missing.

He looked back at her with a stern look. “No more Dracula imitations, okay?”

She sighed. “I’m never gonna live that one down.”

“I’m serious,” he said in a parental “don’t make me turn this car around, young lady” tone.

“I’m sorry, Billy,” Carolyn surprised him with a rare concession.

“Don’t be sorry—just don’t do it again.”

“I’m sorry for being sorry, Billy.”

He concealed a smile as best he could.

They stopped to eat at a greasy trucker diner off of the Appalachian Thruway. A waitress approached their table and handed them plastic menus. Like Carolyn, she flashed a smile of missing teeth. “How y’all doing tonight?”

“Good, thanks,” Billy said in chorus with Dana.

She looked quizzically at them. “You on vacation?”

“Why do you ask that?” Billy asked right back, his hand on the gun in his leather jacket.

She shrugged. “No biggie—you just don’t look like the types to come around here.”

“Yes, we were on vacation,” Dana answered a little too quickly. On the sticky table sat a local newspaper advertising Saturday’s football game between nearby Penn State and the University of Iowa. “We came for the Penn State game. We are alumni, and traveled here from Chicago,” she improvised.

“Go Nittany Lions!” the waitress howled, before turning her attention to Carolyn. “Are you enjoying your vacation, sweetie?”

Carolyn took a quick breath like she was going to dive into a pool, then said, “Oh my gosh.”

Billy knew it was kid-code for “tangent about to begin.” They were too late to stop it.

“We went to my Dad’s cabin and met this guy named Calvin. He tried to take me away, but we found out he was nice. Then there was,” her hand motions turned theatrical, “this huge fire and Calvin turned into a firefly right before our eyes! So we went to Montreal and did le shopping and got to sleep over at Calvin’s brother’s house. But he died, so we came back, and I got shot. Then I was going to go to school, but Billy picked me up on a motorcycle, so I couldn't.”

Billy’s heart practically jumped out of his body and flopped like a dead fish on the ketchup-stained table. And to make things worse, Carolyn wasn't finished, “Oh, I almost forgot—Aunt Dana was going to shoot my friend Billy with a gun, but they are friends again.”

The waitress patted her on the head. “That is a great story, sweetie.”

Dana shrugged. “She has some imagination, huh?”

“And she's not going to apologize for it,” Billy added with a nervous smile.

The waitress smiled again at the crazy “city folk,” then announced, “I’ll be back with your drinks.”

Billy pondered getting up and dashing out of the diner. But concluded that it would have caused more suspicion. It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a little girl to have a great imagination and tell wild tales. He held his breath, hoping the waitress wasn’t on the phone to 911. Luckily, she returned with their food, and not the police...or worse. Billy and Dana gobbled down club sandwiches, while encouraging Carolyn to munch a littler faster on her hot dog—they couldn't afford to linger too long in one place.

When they exited into the cold night air, he feared the bad guys would be waiting for them in the parking lot, but nobody was. Just more empty paranoia.

Figuring out what to do with the car was the next step. The Camaro might have made a good getaway car if their only opposition was the police. But he was sure Operation Anesthesia and Hasenfus had already made the connection to the Kielys, and Richard's car would be a primary target.

But the other options were even less appealing. Billy certainly wasn’t a car thief by trade, and Dana didn’t strike him as a hot-wire kinda girl. So ditching one vehicle and stealing another had more probability of landing them in prison, than assisting in an escape. Trains and planes were not an option - they had too much security to even think about.

Billy knew of one place he could go, although, it was a long shot to say the least. Maybe even more so than a possible car heist, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

Night had turned pitch-black as they maneuvered through the Appalachian Mountains. Billy moved onto Highway-22 toward Ebensburg and then merged onto the William Penn Highway. Dana was glued to Beth’s Blackberry—hopefully not leading an Operation Anesthesia GPS system right to them—looking up subjects on the Internet such as bacterial infections and gangrene. She kept peeking back at Carolyn with a look of worry, who had drifted back into a deep sleep.

Billy carefully descended the Camaro down the winding mountainous roads, landing safely on familiar ground. But it was so far in his rear-view mirror that it seemed like the first time he’d ever been there. 

Dana pointed to the sign—Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Population: 77,252. “Are you taking me to your high school reunion?”

Billy didn’t say anything. He was too busy staring out at the ghost city. He’d only been back twice since the day he graduated college—for the funerals for his parents. The last, his mother’s, was ten years ago. It’s not like he was far away; he lived in the Klein mansion in a suburb of Pittsburgh—about sixty miles and one lifetime away. He just never saw a reason to go back.

Johnstown sat in a valley and the view from Appalachians was impressive. Its many lights glowed like an oasis. But like a lot of things, it looked better in the dark. It was once one of the biggest steel producers in the nation and its Conemaugh River Gap was a big exporting route to both Pittsburgh and Ohio. But Bethlehem and US Steel were long gone, and its last great export to Ohio was a quarterback called The Amish Rifle. Springsteen captured the bleakness in his song “The River.” I got a job working construction, for the Johnstown Company, but lately there ain't been no work on account of the economy.

Tonight was the town's one shining moment. It was Friday night and Johnstown High had a home football game. Texas gets all the hype when it comes to a passion for high school football, but it was also king in western Pennsylvania. By the number of cars clogging the streets, he figured they must have won. Memories flooded back.

“Earth to Billy—did you hear me?”

He looked at her. “I’m sorry, what?”

“You look like you saw a ghost. I asked if you were taking me to your high school reunion.”

“It was last spring—the fifteen year.”

“Did you go?”

“I haven’t been back here in ten years.”

“The great Amish Rifle never returned in his horse and buggy to the land he conquered?

“I’ll bet they have a new teenage wonder-boy to live their lives vicariously through. I doubt they even remember me.”

Dana soaked in her surroundings, taking in the aura of the town. “This seems like a place that remembers the past. Maybe a little too much.”

He nodded.

“Does it look any different to you?” Dana asked.

“Exactly the same. Not one piece of furniture has been moved.”

Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” 

He didn’t say anything.

They maneuvered through suburban neighborhoods until they arrived at Oak Street. The house looked the same. A ranch style home made of brick and vinyl, sitting behind a small manicured lawn.

He was in his early sixties when he last saw him, his freshman year at Ohio State. He wasn’t even sure if he was still alive. But then he noticed the wood-paneled station wagon parked in the driveway—Brady Bunch model circa 1972—and like most things in Johnstown, it was still in the same exact spot as the day he left.

Billy remembered him saying that no matter what he would always be there for them. It didn’t matter about miles or years, if he got that call in the middle of the night, he would be there. And he said it didn’t matter how much trouble they were in, as long as they admitted their faults and were committed to making amends.

He was about to really test those words.

Next Week: Westward Bound 2 - where do they end up??

Note: Pic used in blog entry is property of Savage Chickens