The Haunting of Rosemary Watson

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The photograph on the right is entitled “Me and the Mirror” by Julius Kaisor and is used under his Creative Commons (Attribution-Non Commercial-Share Alike) license, with much gratitude.

I’m pleased to say that work is continuing on The Unwritten Girl’s proposed sequel, Fathom Five, and I hope to have this book battered into submittable shape by the beginning of summer. I think the story is mostly there, and my edits have been to remove clutter, enhance detail and make the characters sound right.

Erin says that when I write a first draft, I usually go too far, and have to bring myself back. This compares to her technique of not putting in enough in the first draft, and having to go in to add detail. In an early draft of Fathom Five, I wrote a scene where Peter comes to realize that he is in love with Rosemary and he needs to tell her. Initially, I wrote it far too directly, with Peter talking to his counsellor. It was talky and obvious. It had to go. I managed to replace it with a scene wherein two of Peter’s friends confront him with the obvious.

One scene that remained in until late in the game was there to make Rosemary realize that she has to talk to Peter about what’s happening to him, and to them. And again I approached it much too directly by having the school’s principal call Rosemary into his office and tell him his concerns about Peter’s falling marks. Bzzt! Real principals wouldn’t do that. But I left the scene stand for want of something better.

Well, this past Tuesday, I went in and removed the offending scene, and brought in this replacement. At this point in the story, Peter has shaken his relationship with Rosemary by kissing her, and she’s in a bit of a muddle about what’s what. But once she gets up the courage to ask Peter about where he stands, the forces behind this story start to work on him, and incidentally shrouding Clarksbury in a deep fog. In this scene, Rosemary is in a fog herself, upset that after resolving to talk to Peter about their relationship, Peter hasn’t seen fit to come to school. But of course something else is contributing to her unease…

This replacement scene is itself a first draft, so I will likely have to go back in to tweak character and draw things back. But I’m pleased enough with it to share it with you here.

The fog seemed to follow Rosemary into the school, darkening her mood. She gave her history presentation (on Laura Secord), focusing on the one empty desk in Mr. Hunter’s class: where Peter should have been. She thought she’d covered her unease well, but at the end of period, Mr. Hunter pulled her aside.

“Nice work on your project, Miss Watson,” he said. “Could have used a bit more ‘umph’ in the presentation, though.”

“Oh,” she said. “Sorry, sir.”

“Something on your mind?”

“Yeah.”

“About Peter?”

She felt her cheeks redden. The realization that her cheeks were red made them redden even more.

His frown deepened. “Want to talk about it?”

“Um… thanks,” she said. Silence stretched. She swallowed. Fortunately, the bell rang. “Gotta go!” She pulled herself from Hunter’s inquisitive stare and walked out into the hall faster than she’d walked all day.

For a moment, she blinked at the sudden brightness of the hallway, and wondered if lights had flickered on, but the cloud on her mind returned and everything dimmed again. She sighed.

After French, Rosemary splashed her face in the washroom and put on her glasses. She peered at herself in the mirror. Her reflection looked foggy, her brown hair mousey, her skin tinged grey. She huffed and washed her glasses, but it didn’t help. “Why am I so tired?” she muttered. She’d been restless last night, but didn’t recall any insomnia. And this morning she hadn’t been tired, but she’d been so nervous about talking to Peter about their — she swallowed — relationship, that she probably hadn’t noticed.

Where was he? How dare he not be here when she so needed to talk to him and find out what was what?

Rosemary felt the hairs prickle at the back of her neck, and she whirled around. Nobody stood behind her. Still the feeling of being watched didn’t go away. She strained her ears to listen over the hum of the fluorescent lights, and she scanned the floor beneath the stall doors. “Is somebody there?” Silence.

Scaring myself with my own shadow, she thought. Just what I need. She picked up her knapsack and made to go, but something breezed against the back of her neck and she whirled around again.

She found herself staring at the mirror. She was sure something had been there, behind her, reaching for her throat. But looking hard, all she saw was her reflection. Looking behind her, all she saw was empty air.

The washroom door burst open and Veronica strode in, with Brittney in lock step behind. They breezed past Rosemary as if she wasn’t there and began touching up their makeup in front of the mirror.

“Did you see Mr. Simmons last period?” said Veronica, “I thought he’d pop a vein when he was told Peter was AWOL.”

“Mr. Simmons?” Brittney cackled. “What about Peter’s teammates? They had to give their presentation without him.”

“Mr. Simmons or his teammates,” Veronica cooed, “either way ol’ reliable Peter is in big trouble.”

Rosemary’s brow furrowed. Peter wouldn’t miss a deadline like this. Not without calling in sick.

Her heart leapt. Maybe he was sick?

“Did you do anything to Peter to distract him, Rosemary—” Veronica turned from the mirror, but Rosemary was already gone, the door swinging shut behind her.

In the office, the secretary looked up from her paperback. “Rosemary? Is something wrong?”

Rosemary shifted on her feet in front of the secretary’s desk, feeling foolish and paranoid. She took a deep breath. “Could I use the phone, Miss Stevens? I got to make a call.”

“You sick or something? You need to call your folks?”

“No, not sick,” said Rosemary. She touched her stomach. “I just got to call… home. Yeah. To arrange… things. Okay?”

The secretary shrugged and nodded at the phone on the wall. “Hit nine to get an outside line.” Then she returned to her book.

The phone was mounted on the wall beside the door to Principal Jenkins’ office, and she had to reach to pull the receiver off the hook. She was certain they mounted it deliberately to make her feel small. She started to key in Peter’s number, then stopped. She heard Peter’s name through the Principal’s door.

“I’m worried about Peter McAllister.” It was Mr. Hunter’s voice.

“What’s wrong?” asked Mr. Jenkins.

“He’s becoming moody and isolated,” Hunter replied. “His marks are dropping. He’s showing less and less interest in class.”

“It’s as I feared,” said Jenkins, “Peter’s becoming a teenager.”

“This is Peter we’re talking about, not one of the other students,” said Hunter. “After all the boy’s been through, he’s the brightest star I’ve ever taught. Any other kid who’d lost their parents and moved into a new town would be a troubled youth by now, but not Peter. Something else is dragging at him, something recent. Miss Watson’s worried about him too, I can tell.”

“No kid develops by the book, Mr. Hunter,” said Jenkins. “Except for the Watson’s, Peter’s never really fit in here, though his teammates do their level-headed best to make him feel welcome. Every kid goes through this identity crisis. All you can do is just keep an eye on things and be there when they need help. You tried talking to him?”

“I tried calling him this morning,” said Mr. Hunter. “When he didn’t show up to class? That’s the most disturbing thing of all. Nobody’s answering the phone.”

Rosemary put the phone on the hook and left for class, more on her mind than ever.

Mr Hunter’s conversation with Mr. Jenkins really needs work. It sounds like they’re quoting from psychology textbooks. But the bones are there, and I will revisit this soon. What do you guys think?

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