“From the stage that brought you Will & Allyn’s Interactive Theatre,” Allyn-a-Dale proclaims before the curtain, “here’s Ever On Word’s original talk show, Will Scarlet’s Kiss & Tell.”
The curtain rises, the studio audience applauds, and Will Scarlet himself walks smiling and waving onto the bright, cozy set.
“Hullo, everyone! Let’s jump right into it, shall we?” Leading by example, he hops into his armchair. “Allyn, who is our guest character today?”
As the guest enters from the other side of the stage, Allyn says, “Author Mere Joyce describes Maddie Deacon thus:
A 16-year-old former artist who is now unable to participate in her craft due to the memories of being held captive by a painting madman. She used to be a very confident, passionate girl, but now she’s more reserved and sullen.
“Huh,” says Will, reflectively. “That sounds… Allyn, you want to take this one?”
Allyn’s head snaps up. “What?”
Will pops up to his feet. “Traumatized artist. That’s right up your alley. Here, we’ll switch. Take my place.”
“I… are you serious?” Allyn whispers.
“Dead,” Will confirms, hustling Allyn into the host seat.
“Um. Well. Hello,” a dazed Allyn addresses the girl now seated in the chair across from his own. “Welcome, Maddie. First things first, I suppose: Are you okay with,” – he gestures between himself and Will Scarlet, now off-camera – “all this?”
“Um…I-I guess.” *Glances off-stage to where her little sister and a boy her own age give her encouraging smiles, clearly suggesting they forced her into this* “I d-didn’t have much of a choice.”
“I know the feeling,” Allyn mutters. Redirecting his focus back Maddie’s may, his tone gentles. “Before we address the darkness you’ve dealt with, would you share one of your brightest memories from your days of freedom?”
*Jerks thumb at aforementioned boy* “Painting Wesley. H-he’s my…well, he used to be…my best friend. And once, I got to p-paint him. At night, outside, with his cello. The portrait turned out well. I-I even showcased it. At our school’s Art Showcase. It was…it was the piece I showed the night I was abducted.”
“Ah.” Allyn winces sympathetically. “Well, we’ll call that our segue and move on to more difficult matters. During your close to three years of captivity, to whom – apart from yourself and your captor – did your thoughts most often turn, and why?”
“Mostly, I thought about my parents, my sister Autumn, and Wesley. B-But I think I thought of my sister most of all. She’s thirteen now, the age I was when I was t-taken. In all my time away, the one thing I was g-grateful for was that it was me locked up, not her. She’s got an amazing spirit, and she’s just so…alive. I n-never want anything to change that.”
“Quite so,” Allyn nods as a great deal of wet sniffling sounds from off-camera. “Erm, don’t mind Will. He suffers from a tender heart, poor man. And while we’re yet on the subject of suffering: What is it that you miss the most about your art?”
“The rightness of it, if that makes any sense. Painting was once a n-need for me, and s-sometimes I think it still could be. When I find a subject I think I’d like to paint, my fingers itch, and my b-brain starts forming the picture whether I-I want it to or not. It’s like every nerve in my body is on edge, and…and the tension’s not released until the painting begins. It’s h-hard, not being able to l-let it t-take hold. It’s hard not being able to g-give in.”
“So I’d imagine,” says Allyn, his fingers twitching as if plucking invisible lute strings. “Suppose, for a moment, that I am you, at age thirteen. What would you most like to say to me?”
“Well, f-first I would tell you not to wear headphones when you’re walking alone at night. But, then I’d tell you to stop putting off the things you keep planning to someday accomplish. P-portraits you’ve promised to paint, p-people you’ve been meaning to spend more time with. There’s always a theoretical tomorrow, b-but not always an actual one. Do things now, not later. Do them while they’re still easy to d-do.”
“I love you, Allyn!” Will is heard to wail while he has the chance.
Allyn grimaces. “Yes, I know. And I you. But do try to keep it together for just a short moment more. I’ve the last question to go. Tell me, Maddie, what is your author’s biggest, deepest, darkest, most mortifying and/or hilarious secret?” He glances over his shoulder. “Or would you rather kiss the Scarlet wreck?”
*Glances at Will*
*Glances at Wesley*
“Um…I’ll stick with the s-secret. Well, actually, it’s s-sort of a secret, and s-sort of a proud moment in her life (depends on who is asking), but M-Mere permanently damaged her tailbone, and p-possibly broke it, while dancing to the Backstreet Boys…I-I don’t know how, but she claims it’s the fault of a music video? One where they’re d-dancing in a h-haunted castle or something? S-Sounds made up to me.” *Looks skeptically at Mere*
“‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)’!?” Will shouts, an emotional one-eighty rocketing him back into high spirits. “ALL RIGHT!”
“Ahem,” Allyn coughs. “The word from our sponsor, please?”
Three years ago, sixteen-year-old Maddie Deacon was abducted on her way home from her school’s Art Showcase. Five months ago, she escaped the madman she calls The Painter. Before being taken, painting was Maddie’s life. Now, it’s her nightmare.
Maddie wants to forget her years in captivity. She’d rather spend her time getting reacquainted with her parents and her sister, not to mention her cello-playing, beautiful boy next door and childhood best friend Wesley. But paint is everywhere, and tormenting shadows linger in every portrait she encounters.
When the yearly Art Showcase once again approaches, Maddie has the chance to win a scholarship and start planning a future far away from the horrors of her past. She knows she has to make a choice–confront her memories of The Painter and overcome her fear of the canvas, or give up painting forever.
“Thanks, Allyn, for playing host for a day,” says Will. “Thanks to you as well, Maddie. And thank you, my beautiful audience. Remember, authors – if your characters would like to appear on the show, simply follow the guidelines provided here, and we’ll get them on the schedule. ‘Til next time, lovelies: Scarlet out!”
Release Day Bonus: An excerpt from “Blank Canvas” by Mere Joyce!
“Hello, Maddie,” Tim says, taking a sip from his Healing Expressions coffee cup. I’m glad he and Juliet call me Maddie instead of Madison, like Klara does. I’ve gone by Maddie since my days in preschool, and being called it here makes the office seem slightly less institutional.
Of course, it doesn’t make this moment any less awful.
“H-hi,” I stammer, my voice thin. My feet ache as I force them across the threshold. Tim prefers it if I close the door behind me, but I need to see my escape route. Shakily, I cross the room and sit on the bench along the wall of windows that look down over the parking lot. The cushions are soft, bright orange, and there are pink and green and blue throw pillows scattered along the seat. I grab the blue one, and hug it to my chest as I stare at the world on the free side of the glass panes.
It’s a strange sensation, watching the world like this. In elementary school, at recess, I would sit by the fences backing the neighborhood houses. With my head tilted into the cool fall or warm spring breeze, I would close my eyes and picture the people in those houses, people not working, people working from home, people driving the streets or watering their lawns or relaxing in front of the TV, while I remained stuck at school for another several hours. I have the same thoughts now as I gaze over the parking lot, far out to the park, the townhouse complex, and the streets beyond. So many people sleeping, reading, shopping––all while I’m here, trapped behind a wall of glass.
It helps to keep my back to the easel. Slowly, the panic of my arrival subsides, and I take full gulping breaths until I’ve settled into muted unease.
“How are you feeling today, Maddie?” Tim asks. He remains seated. I get antsy if his six-foot-three inch body looms over me.
“I’m fine,” I lie. I’m never fine. Not anymore. But declaring it is like stating the obvious.
“How’s school?” I can hear a smile in his voice. I like Tim’s voice, with its deep, quietly enthusiastic tone. I’m fairly certain I like Tim, too. Or, at least, I would, if the circumstances were different. If he didn’t have the task of prying, of guiding me into frigid, infested waters every time we meet.
“It’s fine,” I say, shrugging my shoulders.
Tim’s chair scrapes across the floor as he stands. I keep my eyes fixed on the parking lot outside. I’ve found Wesley’s tiny van, and I watch it intently.
Tim approaches, sits on the bench a ways off. “Did you read any papers this week?”
“No.” The tension I nearly shed on the ride over here is creeping back again. I hate therapy. I don’t understand how digging into every unpleasant crevice of my subconscious is supposed to make my life easier.
“How about the news? Did you watch any?” Tim asks, even though I’m already shaking my head.
“Y-You know I didn’t,” I reply, and Tim breathes out, the resulting sound just short of a sigh.
“How many times have you had to avoid his picture?” he asks, and I squeeze the pillow until my fingers are white.
“S-Seventy … S-Seventy-two,” I choke out.
It’s become a habit keeping track of the number of times I stop myself from seeing him. When I go to the drugstore and see the papers lined in a hideous row. When the news comes on, and reporters rehash what happened. In the beginning, it was far harder. There were articles all over, news stories, constant threats to my sanity. Five months on, most of my count comes from the personal attacks, the times I remember something, imagine something, and his face almost manages to push its way in.
“Good. An improvement on last week,” Tim says, the pleasing smoothness of his voice giving the achievement a more respectable air than it deserves. Last week there were seventy-eight occurrences. Having six fewer episodes means nothing, except Tim is trying to be as positive as possible.
Plus, there’s the phone call to consider. Last week might have been an improvement, but I’m certain my methods of diversion will fail to keep me from replaying the conversation I wasn’t supposed to hear this morning.
About the Author:
Mere Joyce lives in Ontario, Canada. As both a writer and a librarian, she understands the importance of reading, and the impact the right story can have. She is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and holds a Masters of Library and Information Science from the University of Western Ontario.
When she’s not writing, reading, or recommending books, Mere likes to watch movies with her husband (she may be slightly obsessed with Alan Rickman), play games with her son, go for walks with her dog, and drink lots of earl grey tea with orange chocolate on the side.