There are a lot of writers who talk about how hard it is to hurt their characters, or see them suffer, or even kill them. They talk about the pain they feel when they bring bad things into their lives, or hurt them as part of the story, or kill those around them to bring them pain, or just flat out kill them.
And then there’s George R. R. Martin, who thinks you’re all adorable while he slaughters characters left and right, and jokes about how his last A Song of Ice and Fire novel will be a thousand pages of scenes of wind-blown snow whipping over the graves of every character who ever lived in Westeros.
Yeah, you gotta love that style.
I have made no secret that there are scenes I’ve written that make me cry. Mostly because I’m feeling the same emotions I’m putting into my writing, and the sadness or hurt or pain that was there when the words were created remain to haunt me on later reads. You probably wouldn’t feel the same thing, but there is one story I’ve written, that when I get to the final page, I’m always crying. The ending of that story is personal to me, and I remember what was there when it was written.
But that’s usually in the area of love, and not in the, “Oh, did I break your legs again?” sort of stuff. Physical pain isn’t a problem. I’ve made no secret that the kids in my story are going to suffer all kinds of physical pain throughout their time at school. I already electrocuted Kerry in sorcery class, which was actually sort of fun if you like that sort of thing. Annie won’t get hurt so much this first year of school, but give it a couple of years, and . . . There Will Be Blood.
With that out of the way, lets get on to what happens in The Witch House . . .
I don’t hide the fact that Helena and Erywin are probably two of my favorite characters. They have interesting lives, they’ve both went through personal hells, and they would burn the school to the ground if it it was necessary to protect each other. They love each other unconditionally: they know their strengths and they know their faults, and they simply don’t give a shit what others think of them because their love for each other is all that matters.
So you bring your companion of thirty years into class to do a demonstration. Trust me, everything’s gonna be all right . . .
(All excerpts, this page, from The Foundation Chronicles, Book One: A For Advanced, copyright 2013, 2014, by Cassidy Frazee)
Helena headed to a work counter set at the front of the room. She picked up a small vial containing a dark red liquid. “This is the draught in its final form. It looks a bit like a raspberry drink, but once ingested it’ll do far more than any drink you’ll find in the Dining Hall. And all one needs to sip is about a third of this vial . . .
“Since telling you what this draught does without having a true frame of reference, we’re going to give you a practice demonstration—the first of the class.” She waved over Erywin. “Professor Sladen is not only here to help with the lab, but has consented to be my test subject. You ready, Erywin?”
The Formulistic Magic instructor took the vial from Helena. “Of course, my dear. Ready as always.” She opened the vial, sipped about a third of liquid, then closed it and returned it to Helena. She shook her hands out. “Much better. Did you flavor it this time?”
Helena shook her head. She waited about twenty seconds, which she figured was more than enough time for the draught to take effect. “How do you feel?”
“Oh, fine.” Erywin stood calmly with hands folded before her as if waiting for something to happen.
Helena was about to bring that something . . . “You’re name’s Erywin Sladen?”
Erywin answered instantly. “Yes.”
“Tell me where you live.”
She didn’t hesitate. “Woodingdean, England.”
Helena nodded slowly. “How old were you when you came out here at Salem?”
“I was twelve. It wasn’t long after I started my B Levels.”
“Tell me, were there any problems coming out?”
Erywin shook just a little. “There were—”
“Let’s not talk about that. We started dating during your B Levels, yeah?”
The calmness that she started with returned. “Yes. You were an A Level.”
“Well, I always had something about older women. Was there anything special you used to do for me?”
For the first time Erywin smiled. “I used to sing to you.”
“You loved to sing, as I remembered.”
“Oh, yes . . .” She sighed, remembering those moments. “I did.”
And what song does she sing? Ha. Like I’m going to tell you. Needless to say, Erywin sings for the whole class, and she loves it because there was a time when she loved singing–particularly to her “pretty girl”.
Everything’s going along nicely. It’s sort of like one of those hypnosis acts where someone is made to cluck like a chicken. What could go wrong?
This is Sorcery Class–remember?
Erywin almost seemed disappointed that she was ordered to stop. “As you wish, my dear.” She exhaled deeply. “I haven’t done anything like that in a while.”
“You still have a lovely voice.”
“Thank you, love.”
“I do miss your singing.”
“Well . . .” Erywin smiled coyly. “You know I love to sing for you.”
“You also loved rubbing my back, didn’t you?” She waved to the class. “You can tell them.”
There was more giggling from the students, mixed in with a few moans, but Erywin didn’t mind or notice. “I liked doing that because it made you happy—”
“Tell me you don’t love me.”
Erywin recoiled like she’d been pushed backwards. “Whuu—”
“Tell me you don’t love me.” Helena’s voice was calm and even. “You’ve told all these other things, you can do that.”
“Nuu—no.” Erywin’s hands and arms began shaking.
“You can do this.” Helena closed on her slowly. “Tell me you don’t love me.”
The shaking moved from Erywin’s arms to her torso, all seized in a slight tremor. “I cannn’ttt—” She whipped her head around and moaned between clenched teeth. “Please don’t make me—”
“Make you do what?” Helena seemed unconcerned about her companion’s discomfort as she began to slowly walk around her. “Say you don’t love me? That’s an easy thing to do.” He face became locked into a mask of indifference. “Say it and the pain goes away.”
But the pain wasn’t going away. Erywin was starting to cough and gag as she shook her head violently, her body convulsing. “No, please. I can’t say that.”
Helena moved up to her left ear and half-whispered in a soft voice that carried to every section of the silent classroom. “Yes, you can say it. You will say it. You’re responsible for your pain, love, and you can make it stop.” She stepped before the struggling woman and snapped at her. “Say it.”
“No, I . . .” Erywin choked out a scream. “Please, don’t—”
Helena was having none of it. Her face grew darker. “Say you don’t love me.”
Erywin dropped to her knees, jerking about in extreme pain. “I can’t.”
“Say you don’t love me.”
She threw her arms around Helena’s legs, holding tight as she cried and jerked about, speaking in a tortured cry. “I can’t. I can’t ever say that.”
Helena’s face finally took on a look of compassion. “You don’t have to answer that question. You don’t have to answer any more questions.” She reached into an inner pocket of her leather jacket and removed a small gel ampule. “Take this, love; take it.” She slipped it into Erywin’s mouth. “You’ll feel better, I promise.”
And . . . the Dark Bitch of All comes out and brings the pain to the woman she loves. Why? She’ll tell Annie a few paragraphs down the line, but let’s just get this out in the open: Sorceresses Aren’t Always Nice. And Helena is among those sorceresses who scare the hell out of everyone, because she’s left behind a body count of Enemies of The Foundation–and there are more than a few of those–that is frankly stunning, and, oh, yeah, she’s torturing her companion in front of thirty-two students so they can see what the stuff they’re gonna make in class does.
Which brings the next question: how will the students test their mixtures?
How do you think?