I’m heading out for a much-needed family vacation tomorrow. (It’s been nearly three years since we had one—yikes.) We’re going down to Washington D.C. for a week of fun. Can’t wait to see the Spy Museum and Emma Peel’s leather pants along with all things James Bond related.
In the meantime, here’s one more outtake from the cutting room floor of The Sweet Far Thing. This was a scene from the first draft of TSFT. Now I look at it and go, wow, that’s from a completely different novel. Oh well. Sorry about the funky formatting in the passage. Note to self: figure out technology when you get back from DC.
I know after reading the last few outtakes, some people were concerned about “Asha’s body.” Remember, these are the excised bits. All sorts of things have been changed. And that’s all I will say.
Enjoy the last blast of summer. Ice cream! Water parks! Roller coasters! Beaches! Tank tops and flip flops! Hooray!
See you in September.
We step dreamily back into our own world, settling on the lawn behind Spence. Our bodies are alive with magic, and we cannot rest just yet. This is our time, when the world belongs to us. The night welcomes us and our hopes. It gives us room to dream.
“Watch this!” Ann cries. She’s not a very graceful girl; she’s far too solid for that. But with the magic inside her, it’s as if she’s got wings. She begins slowly, turning round and round until she spirals up like a heat mirage in the desert.
Not to be outdone, Felicity and I run fast and hard over dew-wet grass, running till our feet leave the earth and we soar through the spring-chilled air. Like mad ravens, we dart precariously over and under branches. I pick up speed, enjoying the electric thrill of coming so close to injury each time. I do not know why courting death is so very thrilling; it simply is.
“Let’s liberate the gargoyles!” Felicity calls, mid-air. She lights upon the roof and Ann and I follow. We can see everything from here. The expanse of lawn with its croquet mallets left out in haphazard fashion. The rose garden sprouting fresh buds. The bricked-over caves where we first met to enter the realms. The lake and the boathouse. I can see the lazy snake of the Thames as it visits Spence on its way through England. And far off, I can make out the spires of London itself. And, of course, there are the gargoyles. There are six of them here. Their stone wings unfurl behind them at the ready.
Felicity perches on the edge of the roof beside one. “What do you think? Would I make a fine gargoyle?” She bares her teeth in imitation of its sneering face.
“There is a startling resemblance,” I say.
“How very droll you are this evening, Gemma.”
I give a small curtsy.
“What do you suppose they think about up here all day long?” Felicity asks.
“Flying away,” Ann answers, and I cannot help but catch the longing in her voice.
Felicity swipes her finger down the length of a gargoyle’s long, stone fang. “Should we bring them to life?”
“No!” I say too quickly. In truth, I’ve always found the gargoyles frightening.
Felicity smells fear. She climbs upon the gargoyle’s back and wraps her arms about its neck. No doubt she would tame it. “Come now, Gemma. You’re not afraid of them, are you? They’re nothing more than bad kitties, really. Aren’t you, darling?” she says, chucking one under the chin as if it were her dearest pet.
“What is that?” Ann says, frightened.
“Not you, too,” Felicity scolds.
“I heard sounds,” Ann whispers.
I hear it, too. Someone or something is down below on the lawn. I crouch low by the gargoyle to listen. Scurrying. Footfalls. Whispers. Someone calls out and is shushed.
“Elizabeth, will you be quiet?” That’s Cecily’s voice.
I look to the others. “Cecily” I mouth.
“Those little jackals,” Felicity fumes. “How could they not invite me?”
The girls have a lantern. And it isn’t only Cecily, Martha and Elizabeth. They’ve recruited two others to join their exclusive club.
Ann looks as if she could cheerfully drown them all. “This is our time. They’ve no right.”
“They don’t know we’re here,” I whisper, “and that’s for the best.”
“We could frighten them,” Felicity says, a wicked grin beginning.
Down below, the girls move toward the boathouse like a great shadow. Even as a shadow, they annoy.
“What had you in mind?” I ask.
Felicity slides off the gargoyle and lands in a crouch beside us. “We’ll say we are the spirits of the woods and warn them away!”
“That’s splendid!” Ann agrees. “I should like to be Ana Washbrand,” she says, using her anagram name, “who was beheaded in these woods by her fiendish husband and now must walk these moors each full moon…”
“These aren’t the moors,” I correct.
“Shhh!” Felicity hisses.
“…in search of revenge!”
“Bravo,” Felicity says, bowing. “Gemma?”
Ann’s fanciful illusion is sheer genius, and I shan’t be able to best it.
“I-I shall be a, uh, a…a girl, ah, a French peasant…who, em, who died. At sea.”
Felicity wrinkles her nose at my poor attempt while Ann smiles in smug satisfaction.
“Perhaps you could make yourself look as if you’d been dragged around the bottom of the ocean or some such,” Felicity adds.
“That was my intention.” It wasn’t, but it is now, and I’m happy to steal it.
Felicity hops down from her gargoyle perch. “I shall be the ghost of a beautiful princess imprisoned in a tower…”
I snicker, and Felicity glares at me.
“Will you let me finish? She had fallen in love with one who was forbidden to her and is shunned by all for her trespass. Her family, deeply ashamed, locked her in the tower until such time as she would repent and take the veil. But she wouldn’t. And so she leapt from the tower’s window, dashing herself on the rocks below. Now, she roams these woods at night, hoping to lead others to their deaths as she was led to her tragic own.”
“Splendid, Fee,” Ann murmurs in approval.
Felicity’s grin is as feral as the gargoyle’s. “Let’s give those monsters a fright, shall we?”
We fly down and blend into the night as best we can, careful to stay well behind them and their lantern.
“This will be a night they don’t soon forget.” Ann is made entirely too happy by this, not that I can blame her for it.
“Right. Here we go,” I say. I close my eyes and fix the image of a sodden pirate in my mind. I can feel the change washing over me, and when I open my eyes, my hands are an unearthly white. My skirts are wet as well and hung with garlands of weeds from the sea. I’m a haunt, well and truly. Ann has become a headless apparition in a nightgown, her ghostly head cradled beneath her arm.
“How do I look?” the head asks. It’s unsettling.
“Head and shoulders above the rest,” I reply.
Felicity’s apparition is outstanding, naturally. She has two ropes of hair on either side of her head that hang to her knees. Dark, half-moon shadows turn her eyes ghostly. Black blood trickles from her mouth, and her dress is stained with it.
“Oh, that is ghastly,” I say.
She smiles. “Thank you.”
Cecily and her entourage push on, lanterns jostling. They don’t know what they’re in for. We’ll give them a jolly fright indeed.
“Ooooo-ooooo!” Felicity moans softly. We wait for the terrified shrieks, the cries and fainting. The girls carry on, unbothered. One girl whines about a rock in her boot.
“That was a perfectly hideous moan,” Felicity grouses. “They should be flying back to their beds by now.”
“We’re too far away,” I say. “We need to be closer.”
Our mischief has brought on a round of giggles. We can hardly walk for laughing.
“Who’s there?” Cecily swings the lantern ‘round, illuminating the patch of ground where we had been standing. We’ve ducked in time. Two tall trees shield us from the light. We have to put our hands to our mouths to stop our laughter.
“We shouldn’t be out,” someone says.
“Yes, let’s go back,” another agrees.
“It’s only the wind,” Cecily assures them. They set out again. We let them carry on a ways before trailing them with careful steps. When they’re nearly to the boathouse, Felicity peeps in and out of the trees. “Turn ba-a-a-ck!” she intones in her gravest voice. “These woods be haunted!”
The girls scream. “What is that? What is that?”
Ann gives me a sharp push, and I stumble into the clearing. I move my arms up and down. “Aaaaah,” I drone. I sound for all the world like a sick animal, and I shouldn’t frighten a cat. The girls whirl around in terror. The lantern is dropped and the glass breaks. They are plunged into total darkness save for our supernatural pallor. And that is when Ann makes her appearance. Moaning in flesh-crawling earnest, she reaches up slowly and places her hands on either side of her head. “You have been warned!” she bellows till it makes even my spine go cold. The girls stare at her, trembling and speechless, and as they do, the ghost of Ana Washbrand, God rest her soul, removes her terrible head.
The girls unleash a screech that could wake the true dead—or at the very least Mrs. Nightwing—and stumble over each other in their rush out of the woods. We fall back laughing into the carpet of new grass.
“I could do this every night,” Ann gloats.
Felicity giggles. “Did you see how they scattered? Just like mice. I can’t wait to see their faces tomorrow at breakfast.”
Strange lights weave in and out of the trees. I blink, but I still see them. I sit up quickly. “Do you see that?”
“See what?” Ann asks without moving.
“Those lights over there.”
Felicity gives me a hard look. “We shan’t fall for it, you know.”
“I see it, too,” Ann says. “It’s coming from the road.”
Without another word, we steal toward the road for a closer look. It’s a caravan of some sort. Through the trees, we can see the wagons rolling into the night. There are seven in all. They’ve hooked their lanterns on the sides, and the bumpy road sets them to jostling.
“The gypsies,” Felicity whispers. “They’ve come back!”
The gypsies. I can’t help hoping that among their number is a certain Indian boy I haven’t heard from since I left his quarters in East London. Kartik.