This month's topic - the scariest scene you've ever written - is something I had to really think about because I don't write anything scary, as a rule. My stuff is all light, loving fluff with witty banter and an HEA. No one runs through a haunted building with ghosts or demons chasing them.
So...what to write about?
Then it came to me. I write a great deal of emotional stuff - people and pets dying, relationships breaking up, fights with parents and siblings. And death. Many of my books have a loss in some way or another in them. So, the scariest scene for me to write - ever- was in my third book, FIRST IMPRESSIONS. It was the death of a beloved cat.
Why was this so scary?
Because while I was in the middle of writing that book my own 16 year old cat passed away from old age. Sitting down to write this scene after I'd buried my baby - for that's what she was - was terrifying for me. So terrifying, in fact, that 1 scene of just 250 words took me over 3 weeks to write as a first draft. Some days I'd start to write and was so overcome with grief I managed, maybe, 2 words. No complete sentences, that's for sure. I was so scared of writing the scene, I almost scrubbed it from the plot line. I would have if it hadn't been so instrumental in getting the heroine to see the hero as something other that she had been.
So for 3 weeks I approached the keyboard every day, wrote the 1 or 2 words I could manage, then went off and cried for a few hours. When the scene finally was written I couldn't read it for almost another month. Now I was scared I'd written something that would drag the entire book down the hallway into something morose. I was fully prepared to edit, change and try to make it less sad. When I read it back for the first time, though, it was ( and I hate using the word with my own writing ) perfect. I didn't change a thing, not even a comma. When I sent it along to my editor with the finished manuscript, she wrote that she cried reading the scene as she was thinking about her own pets who've passed on. I've included the scene here. It's a bit long-ish, but...
He thought to call her to see how they were both doing, but when he found himself a few blocks from her house, he decided to pay a house call instead. When she opened the door to his knock, he was glad he had.
“Oh, you must be psychic,” she said, opening the door wide to allow him entry. “I had my phone in my hand to page you.”
He stepped into the foyer and took a good look at her. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, but small wisps of it had escaped the band and were billowing around her tear-stained face. Her lips and skin were pale, her nose a cherry red from crying. She wasn’t wearing her glasses and her eyes were huge, red rimmed, and shimmering.
“I think it’s almost time,” Clarissa said, a sob catching in her throat.
“Where is she?”
“Upstairs. On my bed.” She crossed in front of him and he followed her up the hall staircase. He saw the cat, cocooned inward on itself, in the center of a king sized, canopied bed. As she’d been in the clinic when he’d first examined her, the cat’s breathing was erratic and labored, sickening wet sounds pushing past her open mouth with every shallow exhale.
“When did this start up?” He sat next to the cat and rubbed a hand along her back. Clarissa swiped at her nose.
“About ten minutes ago. I was lying next to her...talking to her, when she coughed and then started breathing like this again. Pat...” Her hands were twisting upon themselves and she was blinking rapidly, her eyes moist and scared.
“Let me do a quick exam.” He reached out and lifted the cat under her forearms. Her chest was barely moving even though the sonorous sounds of her difficult breathing filled the room. “Do you have a stethoscope?” he asked. “My bag’s in the truck.”
Clarissa went into another room and came right back with one.
Pat listened to Teeny’s chest and abdomen, pulled the ear buds from his ears and said, “She’s loaded with fluid again and not able to move any air. I don’t think she’s going to come out of this.”
Clarissa stared at him, her bottom lip quivering, her hands shaking.
“We discussed this at the clinic,” Pat said, placing the cat back down on the bed. “She’s too far gone for treatment.”
“I know. I know, Pat. I...I can’t...I...”
He rose and came to stand directly in front of her. “Clarissa.” He put his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to look at him. “Do you want her to die like this? Suffering? Unable to breath??”
His voice gentled. “I didn’t think so. I have something in my truck. Let me help her. Let me help you both. Please?” Clarissa’s ravaged face tore at his heart. He knew what he asked was probably the single hardest thing anyone had ever asked of her. As if understanding what was going on with the two humans in the room, a small “meow” broke from Teeny and made both of them look to her huddled form on the bed.
Something changed within Clarissa, because in the next instant, she turned back to him and said, “Yes. Please...help her. Please.” Pat ran out to his truck, grabbed his medical bag and then ran back up the stairs.
From the doorway he saw Clarissa bent over her cat. “I love you so much,” she whispered, her nose nuzzling the cat’s fur. “You’re my best friend.”
Pat had seen several owners over the years behaving in the same way Clarissa was now. Petting her dearest friend, cooing to her with a soothing voice, knowing the end was near. He wished he could let the cat die a happy, natural death, but even in the short time he’d been gone from the room, her breathing had become more difficult.
“Do you have what you need?” Clarissa asked, lifting Teeny in her arms. He nodded. From his bag he removed a needle container, opened it and let the sterile syringe remain in its plastic wrapping while he dug into his medical bag for a vial. “What are you giving her?” Clarissa asked.
“Pentobarbital.” He uncapped the syringe with the corked end in his mouth and withdrew the correct amount of the liquid medicine, already knowing the cat’s weight. “Do you want to hold her while I do this?”
“Yes. Will it hurt?”
“No. She’ll feel a quick pinch from the needle head, but it won’t hurt, I promise. Are you ready?” The bald and biting pain in her eyes when she nodded almost made him think twice about injecting the cat. But he knew in his heart it had to be done, and in this one, small way, he was helping them both. Pat pinched an area of skin at the cat’s hindquarters between his thumb and index finger, and said, “Here goes,” while depressing the plunger. Teeny jerked ever so slightly, but Clarissa kept her arms secured around her and held her tight to her chest. “It’ll take a few minutes before the paralysis sets in. Then her breathing will slow and finally stop.” His voice felt raw with emotion even to his own ears as he put the syringe back into its holder. His gaze ping- ponged from Teeny to her owner, and then back again to gauge the cat’s breathing. Within a minute the laboring began to calm and he could see Clarissa’s hold loosen as the cat’s body began to go slack from the medication coursing through it.
“Should I...would it be better...to put her down?” Clarissa asked.
For an answer, he wound his hand around the one cradling the cat’s head. Clarissa dropped a kiss right above the cat’s eye, a solitary tear dropping onto its forehead. If his heart hadn’t already been breaking for her, it surely would have done so right then. The love of a pet was like no other. He knew it personally, as well as professionally. Teeny’s breathing ceased within another minute. Pat stuck the stethoscope buds back in his ears and laid the bevel against the cat’s chest. “Her heart rate’s slowed down considerably. It shouldn’t be much longer.”
Again, because the need to comfort was as strong as the need to touch her, Pat placed his hand over Clarissa’s. Neither said a word. A few moments later Pat listened again, Clarissa’s gaze zeroed in on his face. He shook his head and petted the cat one final time on her head.
“Oh, God.” Clarissa’s wail tore through him as she hugged the cat to her and began weeping against its fur. Without thinking, Pat gathered them both in his arms and held on tight, giving any and all consolation and solace he could, knowing nothing could ease the pain. He let her cry. Even though she dealt with death in her practice, she needed to get this personal, heartbreaking grief out. The feel of her slim shoulders wracked with sobs tore through him. He whispered encouragements into her ear, ran his hands up and down her back, trying to soothe, wanting to console.
Scary stuff, to write about the death of a loved one, be it a family member or a beloved pet.
Now., back to the light, loving fluff!! hee hee
Speaking of...I've got a new Holiday book out right now. MISTLETOE, MOBSTERS, & MOZZARELLA.
It's RomCom about family, food, and finding a dead body in the freezer of the family deli.
IF you're looking for me you can find me here: FOLLOW ME
I doubt I could write a "scary" scene. I don't have the emotional ability. But you're right about what kind of scary scenes there are in romances. And sometimes those are scarier because they can really happen. I'm sorry you lost your cat and I understand why that scene was hard to write. Losing pets is difficult. My kids have had so many pets, and we've lost several. It's always hard.
Wow. Yeah, I can only imagine how tough it must have been to write that scene.
What a sweet story about your 'baby'. And your book sounds wonderful! Best of luck.
What a sad scene, Peg, but beautifully written. Hugs!
As the mother of several fur babies, this is one of the hardest decisions to make. Handled beautifully by the way, and certainly brought on tears. Thanks for sharing. Loved your hero.
Kara - it's true...sometimes emotions are more scary to write than actual gore and guts!
Jennifer - it was brutal!
Barbara - thankyou for the kind words and for stopping by today!
Oh, Judith, THANK YOU!!!
Marcia - thank you for your kind words- and just FYI ( I love my hero - PAT - too! heehee)
"They" some years, maybe decades back, added death of a pet to the list of most stressful life moments and you captured "why". It is one of the most challenging decisions I've ever made and because I worked with end-of-life decisions with people, it had a far-reaching effect and I did some soul-searching for years.
Its bad enough to loss a beloved pet, but to write something similar in a book would be terribly hard. Kudos to you for forging ahead.
Judith - truthfully, I expected my editor to tell me to tone it down or get rid of it. I was so surprised when she wanted to keep it, exactly as written. I guess I've stopped listening to "They/them" and just keep writing what I want to read.
Tena - thank you for your kind words!
Oh, Peggy, a sad, but a lovely scene, in a scary, heartbreaking way. Been there, and done that, and it is never easy. I can see why that would be an integral part of the story between hero and heroine.
By the way - just finished your "Mistletoe, Mobsters, and Mozzarella" and loved it, although a bit of a scary scene at the beginning, but yes, you finished the scene off in a humorous way. I kept reading I because know your writing and knew you'd never let anything bad happen to the heroine :-) This is one of the books I will feature in my November RTG blog :-)
I can't have a pet die in one of my books, just cannot write it. You're brave, Maddie. You're a great writer, too. Best wishes for continued sales.
Oh, Deb - THANK YOU sosos much. I'm so glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to write Tony and Donna's story. Thank you for your kind words
Thanks, Caroline. I think you meant me, not Maddie, so I appreciate being called brave when I'm the biggest wuss in the world LOL.
Writing this through tears. I do believe that when you write from your heartfelt experience, it is the most true and most perfect. Years ago, I had a scene where my protagonist's father dies. When I approached that scene in the book my father was suddenly hospitalized and died two weeks later. I didn't go back to that book for an entire year. I tried but couldn't.
I've lost many cats over the decades and every time it is extremely difficult. Grief does not get easier. Caring people do not become inured to it. However, I do believe that writing about grief in books is very important to share that with the readers, particularly when it makes a turning point in the life of the characters. It is important to show we all grieve and, if we are able, we find a way to live on without that person, that beloved pet, that part of our body we lost. I truly believe that grieving shows love and compassion. We should be proud we are able to love so much that we grieve. Thank you for sharing this moving excerpt and your own story around it.
Oh Peggy. I just can't. Hugs to you!!!
Oh Maggie - you brought me to tears!!! I always go with my gut with my writing, so I was so happy when I let the scene stand as is and my editor agreed. Grief is a part of life. As a nurse I've seen many people get stuck because they've never learned how to grieve.
Maddie - it's okay!!!!! Thank, for the support.
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