Deleted Book Chapter: Death by Fire

When the first draft of The Trojan Conspiracy was completed, the book was 145,000 words long–nearly 40,000 words longer than intended. Here’s one chapter that was left on the cutting room floor, which was removed because it provided unnecessary detail and just didn’t add much value. Still, I liked the chapter and definitely didn’t remove it without some hesitation.

It was late in the evening when Jasper Reynolds arrived home.  He pulled his 2003 Chevrolet Malibu into his long, cracked driveway and paused to examine the darkened windows.  Curious, he climbed out of his car and shuffled up the three steps to the kitchen door, wondering why the lights were off.  The babysitter was supposed to stay with Sarah until he got home, and she didn’t have instructions on how to put her to bed.

“Sarah?” he called out upon unlocking the door.  He flipped the kitchen light on and looked around; nothing was out of the ordinary.  A frying pan sat dormant on the stove, crumbs the remnants of grilled cheese skirting the edges.  A couple plates were stacked in the sink.

He set down his briefcase and keys and walked into the hallway that connected to the back door.  The door was closed, as expected, and the stairs that led to the second floor revealed a darkened upstairs.  It was unlikely the babysitter had taken Sarah upstairs, so he turned on his heels to enter the dining room.

He called her name again, but once more there was no answer.  If she wasn’t here, he couldn’t fathom where she would be.  She never left the house without him, and in reality she couldn’t.  Sarah was, essentially, trapped, though if there was an emergency she knew how to get her wheelchair outside and down the ramp.

There was nothing that distinguished this night from any other.  He often worked late, well into the evening after his colleagues had left.  His brain worked better then, without distractions.  He got along with his colleagues but rarely socialized with them; some of the younger employees went to happy hour after work.  The older ones, too.  But not him.  He just worked and spent time with Sarah, and that was enough for him.

In his early fifties, Jasper was a gaunt, unimpressionable man with a soft voice and a forgettable face.  A minor stroke when he was 42 caused him to have reduced control over his legs; each step was a struggle, though the process was primarily subconscious now.  Balding and with large ears, he was not someone that caught the attention of women, especially not his female coworkers.  He was pleasant with them, but he typically felt uncomfortable in their presence.  He imagined they felt the same around him.

“Sarah!” he shouted once more, concern starting to edge out the curiosity.  There was no reason why the babysitter wouldn’t be there, why Sarah wouldn’t be there.  There was no reason why the entire house would be pitch black.  He went to work and came home every day, and every day Sarah would be waiting for him, or watching television, or reading by her lamp.

Her lamp.

Jasper’s pace quickened as he made his way to the living room, a large space with a couch, television and bay windows that faced the front yard and the road at the end of the driveway.

Sarah wasn’t his daughter, not really, but she was in every other way.  He’d never married nor had much in the way of relationships, but his younger sister was the opposite.  It still wasn’t clear who the father was.  It didn’t matter now, though.  His sister was killed by a drunken driver, leaving Sarah–who was six at the time–to live with him.  She had been a distraction at first, an unnecessary burden that took away from his research, but he soon grew to love her, and she him.  Now twelve, she called him “dad.”

As he entered the living room, he heard the faint rasping he knew all too well.  The curtains were open, giving the room some semblance of light, but it was still dim and his eyes were having trouble adjusting.  The rasping came again and this time he spotted her, sitting in her chair near her lamp.

He approached and immediately knew she was in trouble.  Her hands were gripping the arms of her chair with some effort, and she was hunched over, her torso curled forward.  She was attempting to suck in deep breaths of air, but little oxygen was getting into her lungs.  The sound of her painful breaths horrified him.

“Sarah, my God,” he dropped to his knees before her, worry for her wellbeing and anger at the babysitter for abandoning her surging through him.  She looked up ever so slightly and he could see that she’d been crying, streams of tears having long since dried in salty runnels down her cheeks.  She sucked in another painful, oxygen-deprived breath.

He reached for her lamp, but out of the corner of his eye he saw her oxygen tank just a few feet away.  He scrambled over to it, turned the valve and held the attached mask up to her face.  Feeble hands grabbed his, holding the mask to her face, and she began to breathe.

“Relax,” he told her.  “Just relax.  You’ll be better in a moment.”

She shook her head.  With his free hand he caressed her strawberry blond hair to calm her.  She had begun to cry again.

“Dad–” she croaked, but he told her to be quiet and just breathe.  She cried some more.

Any concern he had had was now replaced with anger.  The babysitter had abandoned his little girl to suffocate in the darkness, slowly and painfully and alone.

Jasper noticed the wheelchair was disabled and locked; her oxygen was so close and yet there was no way she could have gotten to it.

“How long have you been alone?” he cried, even though he didn’t want her to answer right away.

She sucked in a deep breath and looked at him, “Dad, don’t…”  She ran out of air and returned to breathing.

Jasper was now crying, too.  He shouldn’t leave her alone so late.  Damn him for being so selfish, for deciding to work late rather than be home with his child.  Damn him.  He hated his job anyway.  They made him do awful things there.  Awful.  He could barely sleep as a result.  And yet he continued to work there.

They might kill him if he left, but he had to change his hours.  He had to be home for Sarah.

He switched the oxygen mask to his other hand and reached for her lamp.  A small metal cord dangled from below the light bulb, an easy tug required to turn it on.

Sarah grabbed his arm firmly, her eyes catching his.  “Dad, don’t… turn on… the light.”

“It’s okay, baby,” he said to her.  “Everything’s okay now.”

The last thing Jasper Reynolds saw before he died was his daughter’s tears.  A small device at the base of the lamp detonated, the blast strong enough to catch the purified oxygen flowing into the room.  The oxygen canister exploded, killing both Jasper and Sarah instantly.  The resulting fire would soon consume the entire house, including the dead babysitter’s body upstairs.

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