In Kim Savage's 'After The Woods' Bonus Content, Anti-Hero Gets To Tell Her Story — EXCLUSIVE REVEAL
At the center of Kim Savage's After the Woods is a complicated best-friendship between Julia and Liv. While Julia already got to tell her version of her horrific story in this February's YA novel, in this exclusive bonus content, Liv gets a chance to show her perspective. And you're definitely going to want to hear it.
If you've had a chance to read the riveting After the Woods, you already know that Julia braved her own safety and fought back to save Liv from an attack in the woods from a paroled predator. As a result, Julia is taken by the man and held for 48 hours before she escapes. Now, she can only remember what happened to her through bits and pieces in flashbacks. Liv, on the other hand has her own self-interest in mind and becomes a force as the anti-hero in the story. Now, though, readers will get an inside look at what was really going on with Liv in the woods and in the aftermath.
Flying in the face of critics who say that female characters have to be either the stereotypes of the strong, powerful Katnisses and Trises or the likable, everyday girl next door, Liv's behavior makes readers frustrated and uncomfortable, and as a result, she becomes an incredibly compelling character. Thankfully, now we have more on Liv.
Bustle matched with Macmillan to give fans an exclusive look into bonus content from Liv's perspective. Beware: After the Woods spoilers abound below, but that should just give you another reason to read Savage's incredible novel ASAP.
343 DAYS AFTER THE WOODS
I puddle wax in the bottom of the mason jar and stick the candle inside. It takes a while for the match to catch. The humming old Coleman lamp lights the space well enough. The candle is just for effect, in honor of Mischief Night, the Feast of the Dead, All Hallow’s Eve.
I set the jar in the middle of the Mexican blanket and rock on my butt cheeks to get comfortable. My whole body itches. It’s the blanket. Or maybe I stirred up the pink tufts of insulation, and fiberglass slivers have slipped under my skin. This place could use redecorating. I climb out, past the hanging clothes, and kneel in front of my bed, dragging the plastic storage bag from underneath. It was Mother’s idea to vacuum seal my stuffed animals. “Puberty means your childhood is officially over! The time has come to sacrifice your stuffed animals!” she might as well have announced. One by one, I release my crushed baby seal, snow leopard, red panda, and Iberian lynx, lining them up on the rug, their flattened plush expanding at different rates. I scoop them into my arms and use my shoulders to push past the heavy vintage coats and suits made in France, hand-me-downs that smell of oxidized perfume worn by a dead grandmother I never met, and am sure I never wanted to.
I drop the animals onto the blanket, righting the red panda just before it knocks over the candle. Where did the fire start, Chief? Some idiot lit a candle inside a tiny eaves space behind a bedroom closet! Stuffed animals fueled it, made it move liquid-fast through the old Victorian ’til it burned to ash.
The laptop beckons from the corner. Mice droppings fleck its cover. I haven’t logged on since things went so wrong, and I don’t intend to—it feels like a trap, like pressing the power button will activate some beacon above my house that will alert the police, or that bloodhound Paula Papademetriou, or Julia. Even if a beacon went off, my sexy texts to Ryan Lombardi have secured his spot in my pocket. He’s so desperate to scoop Paula, I can send him in a false direction that’ll keep both him and Paula chasing their tails for a good long while.
I lean into the pile of animal plush. After a minute, I’m restless. I feel under the blanket for the thick sketch paper. I shoved the pile so far, it takes some fishing around, and I panic until my finger grazes the soft edges. I peel the blanket back and dust swirls in the light. The rough tears at the tops make me think of his chubby, charcoal-stained fingers adding the final touches to each page. Ripping each sheet lovingly, and sending them special delivery to the post office box I still keep, despite it being something of a beacon itself.
God she is hideous. A face only a mother could love, but wouldn’t, would never, not mine.
“Can I tell you something embarrassing?” I’d said in that draggy, baby voice I created especially for her, from my spot in the shadows, just right of the tiny camera lens at the top of the screen. “My left eye is a bigger than my right.”
The right eye is, in fact, a millimeter smaller. Subtle. Props to the artiste.
“I don’t do all that girly stuff. Plucking and shaving seems like such a waste of time.”
Her lids are heavy under untamed brows, feathered at the ends. Straggler hairs poke from the middle above a flat nose.
“So many questions about my face! Well, since you asked: I guess I always wished I had—giggle!—a more defined chin.”
Her chin nub is delicate, almost quivery.
“I should get braces to push my teeth together. I think I would smile more. I don’t like to smile.”
[You should smile more. Because someone loves you.]
[I do smile. In the dark. Where no one sees.]
Her teeth are so many Chiclets, spaced far apart.
“You’d think you were drawing me! Daw-nee, are you drawing me?”
A sheet of rain slaps the roof. The candle flickers and dims. I tilt the sketch toward the lamp. He never knew how to draw the hair, didn’t have enough information, but that was okay: the effort was competent. Besides, hair was immaterial. He needed to love the face. And he did love it enough to get every detail right. Hung onto my every word, seared them into his memory. Took notes. Jacked off.
I reach over the stuffed animals to the fish-mouthed pencil jar I made in sixth grade. I like the idea of the nest being a place where time is arrested; it works for me. The glazed jar holds tape, plastic tacks, fancy pens from Leland, metal clips, and pencils. I scoop up a handful of tacks and stand, pinning the sketches to the exposed beams, the sharp points pushing easily into the soft wood. It hurts a little, to make holes in the sketches, but I get over it fast. The last picture is the gratuitous one, the one he sent shortly after I figured out exactly what he had in mind. I smirk at the muscles he drew on himself. I mean, honestly! The body on the girl is mind-boggling. Wishful sketching, since I skillfully blew off his questions related to my physique. It’s what I like to think of as Donny’s Magnum Opus, his version of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Pleasures. Probably waxed the dolphin to it before he sent it me. I wouldn’t have cared, gone along with the whole catch-me-if-you-can game, even, if he wasn’t so damned pleased when he saw my real face.
Man he screwed up.
I bunch up Sammy the Snow Leopard and stuff him behind my head, leaning back and staring at my new art gallery. I wonder what it would be like to actually be the girl on Donny’s canvas, moving through life unencumbered, without second glances. No tweaking, just being. For as long as I lived in her skin, I never benefitted from any of those perks. It still seems rather unfair.
Below, the front door slams sloppily. She tries again, harder, until it catches. “O-livi-a!” she yells, sing-songy and drunk. Home from some Halloween ladies social, the Witches’ Ball, irony intended. From the sounds of it, somewhere Cranberry Cocktails were served with abandon.
Pans bang and clatter in the kitchen. “I know you’re up, I saw the light in your window. Come on down and spend some family time with Mom!”
I blow out the candle and turn the Coleman key until the light tubes fade, pull the animals into my lap and become still.
“I’ve seen those legs, Olivia! It’s spa time! I’m warming the wax!”
Saving the sanctity of my nest is worth the risk of a drunken burn. I blow out the candle, douse the lamp and part the coats, yelling, “Coming, Mother!” Static-charged hair clings to my cheeks. I run down the stairs, then slow, skipping the newel post, because swinging is too exuberant for what she has planned, and though drunk, Mother has a knack for sniffing out my attempts to knock her off my trail. Her wet coat sits puddled on the floor, and her bag is splayed open on the hall table. I hear the soft plops of syrup already boiling. The smell of brown sugar cut with vinegar wafts into the hall.
“Happy Halloween,” I say, leaning against the kitchen doorframe. “Did you have fun?”
She drops the wooden spoon. It sinks into the homemade wax as she rushes to give me a damp hug. “I did!” She flattens my cheeks between her palms. “Everyone asked about you, you know. All night long. They absolutely roasted Paula Papademetriou. She won’t be showing her face around the Shiverton Country Club for a good long while.”
Her breath smells like pinecones. Gin nights are the worst.
She pulls my arms apart like wings. “Let’s do the arms, too.”
“Mother, no! I’ll look like a plucked chicken.”
She squints at my arms. “You’re a bit furry, dear.”
“That wouldn’t be the case if I were allowed an occasional cheeseburger.”
She drops my left arm and examines my right, twisting for a view of my tricep and running a fingertip down its length until I shiver. “So taut. You don’t know how lucky you are to have young skin until it changes. It doesn’t matter how many flies or chest presses you do, the second that collagen starts breaking down, the skin underneath just falls. Collapses! And you’re left with cheese arms. The Candle Queen still has a decade and half until her arms go. Leland left me the second my skin turned.”
Mother calling my father’s newest wife The Candle Queen after her line of scented candles is noteworthy, considering she’s about to encase me in homemade wax. But drinking means Mother can turn quickly, and I’m feeling a little sad, so I let it go.
The smell of burnt marshmallows rises.
“The wax!” she yells, dropping my arms. She lifts the boiling saucepan from the stove and sets it on the kitchen table. “We don’t have enough sugar anyway. We won’t wax the arms tonight.”
“Mom, it’s almost midnight. I’m tired. I was asleep when you came home.”
“Now that would be a lie, Olivia. And if there’s one thing Lapins aren’t, it is liars. I braved torrential rain to come home to you when everyone was asking me not to drive. Besides, your bedroom was ablaze when I pulled in.” She stirs the wooden ladle and lifts the wax, twirling a glossy thread.
“That needs to cool a bit!” I say.
She looks at the pot and cocks her head. “Fine.” She reaches under the sink for the calipers. “Lapins say no to lies. We eschew lies. We deal in reality.”
Tonight she is brutal, especially on the spot above my hip bone...
“And the worst lies are the lies women tell to themselves. That a man will love them if they let themselves slip, even the finest bit.”
...And the fleshy part of my back, squeezing, not even waiting for the calipers to creep back before shouting out then recording the measurement.
“No. I won’t let you be unlovable. I won’t allow it. I wouldn’t be a good mother if I did.”
The back of the arm is always the worst. Amazing how painful it can be to squeeze a snippet of skin between plastic tweezers.
I collapse into the kitchen chair rubbing my arm as she studies a pad of paper, pursing her lips. Ripples fringe the top of her lip, like a clam shell. Grinding has shortened her teeth, making her face collapse, and the skin under her eyes sags.
“You’re not doing yourself any favors,” she murmurs.
“Eating on the sly. At school. Carbs, obviously.”
“I swear I’m not.”
“The numbers don’t lie.”
“My weight’s the same.”
“Not your body fat percentage. That’s not the same.”
“You released the calipers too early.”
She leans back in the chair across from me and kneads the cleft between her eyes with her knuckle. Daily workouts can make her body look years younger; the face, not so easy. I wonder if someday I will grind my teeth like she does, ripple my lip like she has. Reconstruct my entire face to reflect my psyche.
“What are you staring at?”
“I’m delirious. Can we wax tomorrow? I really need to go to bed.” I soften my voice and lean over, draping my arms around her shoulder in a loose hug. “Surely you must be exhausted, being the center of attention all evening.”
Over her back, I check my face in the microwave. No permanent distortions yet. As long as she has the perfect canvas, she will never leave me alone.
Images: Courtesy of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group