The Mystery Writer: Where do characters go when they die?
November 6, 2020
It is a disturbed place, worse than hell, the darkest place you’ve ever known, filled with agony and suffering and torment.
I first met Caples Gusarov on page fifty-five of Night Side of Dark. He was seated in the dark inner sanctum of a bar, and I had no idea he would be there. But my hero, Ambrose Lincoln was not surprised.
As I wrote:
The barkeep nodded and shifted his gaze to Caples Gusarov, aged somewhere between fifty-five and seventy-five, sitting alone, his body propped against the black plaster wall, an empty bottle of beer lying on the counter in front of him. White hair. White beard. Transparent eyes. He could have been an albino, and maybe he was.
“Keep the beer flowing his way until the quadrons run out,” Lincoln said.
“They’ll last him all night.”
Lincoln tossed two more coins on the bar.
“He’ll need one more for the road,” Lincoln said. “Make sure he gets it.”
“What makes you so generous?” the barkeep asked.
“I know Caples,” Lincoln said.
“Nobody knows Caples.”
Lincoln grinned. “He’s the one they sent to kill me,” he said.
“What makes you say that?”
“I’ve been knowing Caples a long time.” Ambrose Lincoln began walking slowly toward the front door “He tried to kill me before,” he said.
“How long ago was it?”
Lincoln laughed out loud. “What’s time to a dying man?” he said.
Caples Gusarov would stalk him for the next four hundred pages.
He stayed in the shadows.
He lived in the shadows.
He needed Lincoln
He needed a secret he hoped Lincoln would find.
He would keep Lincoln alive until then.
And then it would be over.
He was sure of it.
The last time I saw him was on the last day of his life.
As I wrote:
Caples Gusarov lay face down in the doorway.
He was at peace with himself.
He had fought the good fight.
He was dead.
A bullet had burst his skull where those thick, brushy eyebrows came together on his forehead. His face was twisted in agony.
Gusarov had died in pain.
Lincoln had not killed him.
But a bullet doesn’t care who pulls the trigger.
I met Caples Gusarov again today in the darkness of an early morning..
Didn’t know he was coming.
I was glad he did.
Maybe he could answer the one question I had always wanted to know.
“Where do characters go when they die?” I asked.
He looked at me through eyes grown strange.
Then they went dark.
And he turned away.
“You died in Night Side of Dark,” I said.
“Why did you kill me?” Gusarov asked.
“It was you or Lincoln.”
“Why not Lincoln?”
“He’s the hero,” I said.
“I could have killed him any time I wanted to.”
I shook my head.
“I wouldn’t let you.”
“I wasn’t ready to die.”
“Nobody ever is.”
“I thought I was as good as Lincoln,” he said.
“But you killed me.”
I shrugged you had to go.”
“I don’t like where I went,” he said.
“That brings me back to my original question,” I said.
“Where do characters go when they die?”
Caples Gusarov looked away.
His face was drawn with pain.
I thought I saw him shudder.
“It’s a terrible place,” he said.
“Purgatory?” I asked.
“Worse than that.”
“I only wish it had been hell,” Gusarov said.
“What’s worse than hell?”
He looked at me.
He glared at me.
“It’s a disturbed place,” he said.
He paused a moment.
“It’s the darkest place I’ve ever known.’
“It crawls with demons, and I can hear them at night. They are beating on the door, wailing like banshees, angry and screaming and begging to be set free.”
“Where do you go?”
“It is full of agony and suffering and torment.”
“Where is it?”
“No place is more abysmal,” Gusarov said. “We go back into the mind of the writer.”