Writers keep lists. Lists of things to do, which quickly become lists of things not done. Lists of character names never to be christened on the page. In my case, I have lists of titles, hundreds of them.
My latest novel, The Bennington Boy, began a long time ago as a throwaway title — B-Boy — on such a list. As a title it doesn’t conjure much on its own, unless you’re a Beastie Boys fan. There’s none of the literary allusion of Something Wicked This Way Comes, or the blunt mystery of IT, but in my mind it brought forth a striking image. I saw a half-bat child peeking through the curtains of a quiet house at the end of a quieter cul-de-sac. The creature, a child in size alone, had the face of the famous Bat Boy of Weekly World News fame, and it fed off the bodies of old, childless couples. I envisioned a short story with a nasty ending; the B-Boy of the title escaping to another quiet cul-de-sac to feed off another childless couple. I do like an unhappy ending.
Unfortunately, I’d have to forgo an ending, unhappy or otherwise, for a few more years to come. I started writing the short story not long after putting down the title but soon consigned it to the growing folder of orphaned and abandoned monstrosities I named ‘Bedlam’. In there, I lock away all the malformed ideas, blind beginnings and mute endings of stories I wish to keep hidden from the world.
As with all the creatures I consign to the folder, I have a hard time keeping them contained for long. A year later, B-Boy peeked out from behind the curtains again, and I began writing a novel based on the little sucker. I threw in a dash of slovenly police detective, a pinch of a ridiculous subplot about Romanian orphanages breeding vampire children for sale, and more than two heaped spoons of blood. I let the story cook for a month or two, and sixty-five thousand words later, I stepped back from my creation, smiled, and promptly banished B-Boy to Bedlam again.
The story didn’t work. My detective had all the fashion sense of Columbo and none of the charm. The orphanage somehow made a profit from vampires, but I could never figure out who would buy a vampire. The B-Boy fed. He peeked out from behind the curtains, but as the novel progressed, I became less and less interested in him and more and more in the shadow he cast.
In a pivotal chapter of the abandoned novel, my knock-off Columbo investigates a house on Blakely Close. Inside the house he finds an old couple shrivelled down to husks in their bed. He sees the shadow of a boy flit by at the edge of his vision. He chases the shadow onto the quiet of the cul-de-sac. For the rest of the novel, the shadow chases him in one way or another.
That shadow chased me too. Six months later, it chased me back to Bedlam to pull out B-Boy and revisit Blakely Close.
A new character appeared. Amy Bennington, living with a husband who had all the presence of a ghost, looked out of her dead son’s nursery onto the silence of Blakely Close. She too noticed an impossible shadow cast across the cul-de-sac. She too wanted to know who owned that shadow. And she too would soon take a trip to Bedlam to stay with the rest of my orphaned monsters.
Amy’s story would take her from the quiet of the cul-de-sac to the deathly hush of a library where the B-Boy nested in the rafters. It would take her from vegan to meat eater; often that meat belonging to still breathing animals. It would take her to an ending that didn’t make sense, in a story I no longer enjoyed.
Three, they say, is the magic number. It is also my limit for chocolate biscuits (not really), alcoholic drinks (one, and I’m out of it, usually), and stories (more than often true). I thought B-Boy would rot in Bedlam alongside the typewriter fed by blood, the zombie stuntman, and the pirate ghosts trapped on a lake. To my surprise, the shadow of B-Boy caught my eye again ten months ago, and I returned for a final time to Blakely Close.
I found Amy there, but the B-Boy no longer peeked out from behind the curtains. All that was left was a shadow. A shadow now growing within Amy. A shadow that would slowly drive her insane.
The journey from title to shadows took three years. I visited Bedlam far too many times in that period, but I can finally put the B-Boy and his shadow behind me.
Now, I put his shadow in front of you.
This article originally published February 13th on Medium.com