One of the interesting things about making stuff up is the way the characters you invent can take on a life of their own. And a loose end of a story written years ago can spin itself into a bigger story.
Many years ago, I published a story in the late-lamented Pan Horror series. It was called, "On the Fishermen’s Path", and told the tale of a young man’s holiday romance with a mysterious young woman who turned out to have a chilling backstory. At the end we strongly suspect that she was responsible for a series of grisly murders, and the young man in the story escaped becoming the latest victim only by luck.
Something in the story wouldn’t let me go, and long afterwards I found myself wondering whether there was more to the young woman’s story than I had written. I found myself reimagining the woman who disappeared at the end of "Fishermen’s Path". Where had she come from? Why did she do the things she did? What if she had been around a very long time, changing her name and identity, repeatedly turning up to bring havoc to the lives of the men who crossed her path? Thus I found myself writing a novel, ‘Among the Living.’ In this story, a widowed father, desperate for love and stability, falls for a wealthy, attractive, enigmatic woman who turns out to be have a dark and lengthy past. He tries to break up their relationship, but the woman breaks in to his home, attacks him and abducts his son. Warned off from involving the police, he sets out to track her down to save his son. The search takes an increasingly bizarre turn as he discovers connections to a series of other women, stretching back over four centuries.
As evidence mounts of the troubling links to these women from the past, the guy has to face the possibility that they are in fact the same woman; from the Elizabeth Barlow he knows, through Eliza Batho, mistress of the British Prime Minister in World War One, and finally back to one of history’s genuine monsters, Countess Elizabeth Bathory. A woman reputed to have murdered hundreds of people for their blood, using witchcraft to prolong her life. A woman who has kidnapped his son.
I was pleased with the book, but even then I found that my character would not leave me alone. "Among the Living" ended with her holed up in a cottage in the country, apparently safe from the authorities and free to reinvent herself again. But still she nagged at me. If she had lived a dozen lives, however careful she was she would leave traces. Surely someone would eventually stumble over those traces and maybe come looking for her. What would happen then?
This thought led to the story "Lenin’s Nurse". A diligent historian spots the similarities between Lenin’s nurse in the 1920s and Stalin’s assistant in the 1950s, and follows a thread that leads to a quiet cottage in the present-day English countryside. With results that he could perhaps have foreseen. Certainly if he’d read "Among the Living".
Maybe I’ve finished with this story now, and the character can rest easy. Only time will tell. After all, I wonder what she would do next...