Some years ago, I was writing my novel The Teddy Bear Conspiracy. One of my main characters was named Tina, and there came a time in the book where her character had to be killed off. I found this really hard at the time because prior to this moment in the writing, I had really put a lot of life into this character, making her almost as important as the main protagonist and any other character in the novel. But I had hit that point where she had to go, so I gave her the glorious, heart-wrenching death she deserved. And then I was finished for the night.
The next day, I was in my writing office, continuing the novel. My office was located on the second floor of my apartment and somewhat isolated, so it gave me the space to write and not be bothered. And that was when I heard a whisper of a knock on my front door. Not one to answer the door while I’m writing, I kept going. Then the knocking stopped, and my doorbell rang. I still wasn’t planning to answer the door, but then the doorbell started ringing over and over, as it does when some very impatient person is on the porch, not easily dissuaded by someone not answering the door on the first ring.
I realized I had to answer the door because the person wasn’t going to stop ringing the doorbell. So I opened my office door, descended the stairs and then opened the door.
I discovered a tiny woman standing there, someone I had never met before. “Can I help you?” I said.
She said, in broken English: “My name is Tina. I have come back.”
I just stared at her, not sure if she was serious. I mean, she didn’t look like the Tina I imagined in my book, nor did she talk anything like her. But here she was, this woman named Tina saying she was back.
My immediate thought was that I was in some rejected Stephen King novel, or one he wrote when he wasn’t feeling well. Characters didn’t come back from novels. Well, at least not so they’re standing at the author’s door planning all sorts of evil that only killed off characters might do if they were to return the day after they were ritually killed in their prospective stories.
But why was she back? I thought. Did this mean I was mistaken in killing her off?
“What do you want?” was all I could think to say, while imagining all sorts of awful things that you’d see in horror movies. If only I was a horror writer, I might have had a better sense of what was about to happen.
And then she spoke, looking at my bewildered stare as if I was the one out of place here. “I said my name is Tina. I used to live here months ago. I just wanted to check if there was any mail that was still being delivered.”
And suddenly, I realized where I had come up with the name Tina in the first place. It was on a letter that had been mistakenly delivered here a few months back. I had given it back to the postal carrier and thought nothing of it since. Although the name had stuck and reappeared in my mind when looking for the name of that character.
“I am sorry,” I said. “I sent all mail back to the post office that might have been for you.”
She thanked me, and then Tina was out of my life forever.
But ever since then, I think twice before I kill off a character, always wondering if it’s the right thing. Because you don’t want that character showing up at your front door if you didn’t kill him or her right. Or justly.