Story in the Round – Part 4

The air whooshed from my lungs in a single heartbeat, and I remembered Danny’s warning once again.

Watch out for fairies and wraiths.

I opened my mouth to speak, but Danny pressed a finger to my lips. His eyes were wide, vacant; his mouth hung slack until his own lips parted in speech.  He turned to Aria and dropped to his knees. “We’re at your service,” he said, bowing his head.  “We must obey your king.”

I gasped. What is he doing?

Aria’s lips curled into a satisfied smile. Moments earlier I’d have called her beautiful. Now she was intimidating.  Frightening. She seemed to have grown taller, more solid. Her eyes burned into Danny’s, steady and unblinking.

“Danny,” I hissed, knowing the fairies could hear me, wishing they couldn’t. “Danny, what are you doing?”

He ignored me, and reached for Aria’s hand. She gave it willingly, and he pressed his lips to the fine, white flesh of her inner wrist, his eyes never leaving hers. The fairy’s skin pulsed with light from within, her tattoos dancing as though alive. Their steps matched almost exactly the steps Danny and I had danced moments before.

Alek stepped closer to me. He smelled of cinnamon and something else. It was a rotten, carrion scent, and I resisted the urge to cover my nose. His hand gripped my shoulder. “And you?” he hissed, his mouth suddenly too close to my ear. His breath was hot and wet.  “Are you at our service as well?”

Get away from him!

A voice – my mother’s voice, emerging  as though from a long-forgotten dream – pierced the chaotic hum of my sudden panic, commanding me to obey. I stepped back, out of the ring of smoke, away from the thump-thump-thump of the drums, away from the dancers, the fairies. Away from Danny.

Alek hissed.

The world trembled as I emerged from the smoke. It blurred. When it came back into focus, Danny and the fairies were gone.

“Danny,” I cried, peering into the smoke. My cry was swallowed whole by the drums, by the fire.

“Danny!”

The dancers continued dancing to the beat of the drums, and I was left alone in the darkness.

****

Our shoebox house sat at the foot of the hill atop which the bonfire burned. It was to there I ran, hoping to find Danny sitting on the front stoop, waiting for me, as if the whole night had been nothing but a terrible dream.

As I sped toward the glow of the single-bulb porch light, the fireflies around me ceased their nighttime frolic. The thrum of cicadas quieted and the rhythmic calls of bullfrogs silenced.The stars winked out one by one by one, and, finally, the porch went dark.

The warm, velvet air of the summer night turned cold.  My skin blistered with goose flesh and I shivered against the breeze. My house  – our house, mine and Danny’s – became shadow in the night, nothing more than a darker spot against the darkness.  I approached, and saw a flicker, a movement on the front stoop.

“Danny?” I called. My heart leaped. Maybe it was just a dream.

Then the flicker began to glow. It took form, shape, and my mouth dropped open.

“Mom?”

Role Models? My Characters? Not so much.

It sat there, staring at me. It was…a challenge, etched within a lousy review of my book. “And what is it with that Lola girl?” it said in letters made bigger and bolder by my irritated brain.  “She’s not a role model at all.

And I thought….a role model? My characters? Why do you want them to be role models? They’re characters in a STORY.

I stayed disgruntled for maybe an hour, my feathers ruffled completely. But then I remembered something. Something important.

That Lola girl? The battered, beaten, downtrodden third narrator of my zombie series? She was never meant to be a role model. Like at all. Because that Lola girl? She’s actually a cautionary tale.

See, Lola came about because I had this vision of a girl surviving the zombie apocalypse not because of her own wits, or even her own dumb luck, but simply because someone else made the choice for her. A mean someone. A someone who hurt people, but tried to protect his sister, his baby. His punching bag. I pictured a girl, small and skinny, from a poverty-stricken background, who doesn’t know how to take care of herself at all.  Who has no idea that people can be kind, that some can be trusted. Who winds up on the wrong side of good vs. evil after zombies have decimated our entire country, and who doesn’t even realize it.

I pictured a girl whose self-esteem has been so shattered by years and years of systemic abuse, she has no idea there’s better people out there. Nicer people. Non-violent people. And when she meets them, she has no idea how to be around them.

Becoming Lola is the last thing I’d ever want to do. I faced a scary dude once, a boy who I think would have hit me if I’d let him come to my house on a particular summer day, and it still haunts me. The what-if of it all. What if I’d let him come? What if I’d let him hit me? What if that became my life?

And seriously, haven’t we all been in bad relationships? Where we think it’s the best we’re going to get, the best we deserve? Where we look in the mirror and see something ugly staring back at us? Something we never wanted to become?

It happens, and it’s life, and I wrote Lola to reflect that side of things. She is not a role model, at least not in the first book of the series.

Writing Lola was hard. It’s hard to write someone you don’t admire, not even a little bit. For whom redemption seems, at times, impossible. But look at the world around us. It’s full of good people, sure, but it’s also full of sad ones. Beaten ones. Downtrodden ones. Real ones.

I feel like our responsibility as writers is to not shy away from characters such as Lola, to tell their stories, even if they’re hard to tell.  I don’t want to spend my time writing only happy tales with happy characters who always triumph.

That’s not how life is.  Some of the books I’ve most enjoyed in the past year have extremely flawed characters.  Miriam Black in Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds and Mockingbird is a disaster of a human being. She steals to survive, lives in seedy hotels and on the street, and when push comes to shove, she runs away…at first. Cat in Cassandra Rose Clare’s The Mad Scientist’s Daughter is selfish and self-centered. She uses people to get what she wants in life.

MadScientistsDaughter-144dpi (1) blackbirds

These women aren’t role models…but they are great, strong, dynamic characters.

So no. Of course Lola is not a role model. It’s not my job to write role models. It’s my job to write stories with characters that reflect reality, not a perfect world with perfect people.