I’ve heard that readers are interested in deleted scenes, so I thought I might share the version of Corridors of the Dead that got sent out to agents back in early 2011; at least, a portion of Chapter 1, to give you an idea of what this thing could have been. This version was last updated in June 2011, so it actually comes a few months after that submission period, when I was trying to nail down the new feel for the novel. Within a month I would shift to Matty’s perspective, and the story would tell itself.
In this scene, we see Matty more intent on her art and working the graveyard shift at a Ramada in Eureka. There are some slight variations to her voice, and Delilah McKinley, as mentioned in my Bookcast interview, is a very different character.
Matty’s favorite human feature was the curve of the eyebrow; she enjoyed the way that her charcoals brushed and angled together as she tried to depict them, black angles and strokes coming together to create something that was more recognizable than the sum of its parts. She liked to think that, in some way, it represented her own life, a sum of small choices that added up to something more than those minute details. At least, she hoped.
Her yuppie parents had named her Madeline, Madeline DiCamillo, thank you very much, after the children’s character, of course. She blamed her mother, who had always harbored a streak of Euro-jealousy so thick that it had eventually driven her to Paris and the waiting arms of her online lover, Jacques. Both natural redheads, Matty’s parents had expected her to be born much the same, so Madeline just made the most sense, right? Imagine her father’s surprise when Matty was born with a thick head of black hair and dark brown eyes. Imagine how much more quickly it hastened the demise of their marriage, leaving little Madeline with only her mother at the tender age of 5, head full of confusion and a tousled mass of black hair that she despised.
She despised late nights too, so she was aware of the irony inherent in not just spending her working hours on Ramada’s graveyard shift but enjoying those hours. The damned thing was that, while her social life had withered and decayed, her artwork had blossomed and flourished thanks to having the extended alone time she had craved. Her moments had come together to present the vision of a burgeoning artist.
She both loved and hated the town that had become her hometown. Eureka, California, was the seat of Humboldt county, home to a thriving port, and prison for her soul, in her more dramatic moments. Her mother had dragged her there shortly after the divorce, making her first career transition from Bay Area ad exec to hospital administrator, ensuring that Matty would forever despise both the corporate world and the world of health-care. Quite an achievement, that.
Matty savored the “In Between Hours” of late nights, when the outside world, with its demands, pressures, and expectations, came to a slow halt and the spectre of sleep hung on her bones, a comfortable shroud ready to drain her life force. Her only weapons against that particular encroaching darkness were the Holy Trinity: Monster energy drink, Red Bull, and Mountain Dew Code Red.
She once told a friend that she suspected those hours offered a hint of what an inter-dimensional traveler might feel, and that journey showed in her work; her charcoals and inks often turned to the surreal during those hours, opening gates to other worlds, Lovecraftian beasts, strange faces in the murk of the charcoal.
Her mother had never been able to understand the inner world of Matty DiCamillo, and as she aged from misfit kid to rebellious, punker teenager, the posters on her walls going from Barbie and Hello Kitty to the Misfits, the Damned, and Green Day, their relationship had deteriorated from strained to outright antagonism. At last, at age 16, she had divorced her mother as well, getting herself emancipated (much to her mother’s delight) and taking up a studio in Arcata.
That particular night her charcoals had sung to her, transforming her lover, Kristy, from a meek blond pagan into a sneering Nordic warrior brandishing a bodiless head. She sat in the motel’s back office, head bent over her notebook as the eyebrow emerged from her hand. It reminded her of how much she missed the girl and wanted to jump her bones the moment she saw her again. It had been way too long.
College had never interested her. She always asked herself, why would she want to follow the same damn path her useless parents had followed? It was only in the dark of night, in those moments when she couldn’t fall asleep, that she wondered if she was choosing the easiest path because – well – it was the easiest path, wasn’t it?
She’ll love this, she thought as she leaned back from the rickety wooden desk, surveying her progress. She glanced at her tackle box full of chalks and pencils on the table beside her, idly wondering which of its contents might provide some spice to the composition.
That was the moment that the lobby’s front door chimed, and she heard the woosh of incoming air.
She rubbed her eyes and glanced at the clock on the desk. Weird. She strained, but she couldn’t remember the last time someone had checked in at 3:30. She sat Kristy aside and rose with a sigh.
An old woman stood in the center of the shabby lobby, hunched over, gazing at the godawful Kinkade paintings lining the walls, the mediocre pap that the manager had insisted upon, despite Matty’s protests. It took the woman a moment to register that Matty had emerged, but when she did, she gave a start.
“Morning, ma’am, what can I do for you?” Matty asked.
Recovered from her shock, the old woman greeted her with kind eyes, shuffling toward the imposing front desk. “Well, obviously I’ll need a room.”
Matty forced a smile in return. “I figured.” She touched the computer’s keyboard, waiting for the filth-encrusted CRT monitor (both the computer and monitor had seen better days during the Clinton Administration) to blink to life.
“I’m so glad to see someone’s still awake,” the old woman said.
“It’s kinda my job,” she mumbled. She wanted to be nice to the old broad; she hadn’t done anything wrong or caused her any trouble, but she was picking up a real weird vibe off of her. It made Matty itch all over, eager to get away. At last, the monitor responded with a pop.
“Well, it’s still nice to see. Could just as easily sleep back there, you know,” she replied, jabbing her finger toward the dim cave of the back room.
“Don’t I know it? But,” she said, and lifted an empty Red Bull can from beside the monitor, “the magic of caffeine prevails.”
“Mmm, is that safe?”
“I guess. Whatever gets the job done, you know?“
“I suppose.” She glanced at the monitor. “Do you have a room available? Ground floor?”
Matty pounded the keys, waiting for the creaky hard drive to grind to its resolution. “Yep, right by the pool.”
“Oh, dear. Is that a haul? I have a sore hip…”
“Not really. Just around the corner from here. Smoking or non?”
“I’m afraid I gave up the magic of nicotine years ago,” she replied, and winked.
“McKinley. Delilah McKinley, at your service.”