Alistair teaches Ethan to read

I really like this scene and it seemed like a great idea at the time, but after writing the story for over a year and a half, it had become so long that I needed to start cutting scenes in the final draft. This is a flashback scene that happens when Ethan is in the factory basement, to help show the differences in his own life, but it wasn't really necessary and the scene actually felt more powerful without it. I did hint towards a few of these things later on in the story. 



Alistair’s Mansion
Forty years earlier.

Forty years earlier, when I first arrived in Hell, the only world I knew was one large mansion with its eccentric master. Every day I laughed, fooled around with my friends, and completed simple chores without a care in the world. I was so certain that things could remain that way forever.
One evening I walked down a dark hallway to find Anya peering through a crack in the library doors. Her black maid uniform was camouflaged amongst the shadows. I would have crashed into her if I hadn't noticed the dim light from the library illuminating her face.
"Hey, Anya. What are you doing?"
Shhh,” she hushed with a smile. “I’m watching the master. He’s so cute when he’s trying to concentrate.”
She stared at him with so much love and admiration that you’d never believe it was the same cold girl who ended our friendship.
“Oh. What’s he doing?” I whispered back, but Anya was too engrossed to answer. To her, I was just a tool she could use when it was convenient.
“Anya!” Called Mira from the end of the hall like she knew what the other girl was up to. “The fourth floor windows haven’t been cleaned for a while. Why don’t you go give them a good scrub?”
Anya sighed in frustration. It was unlike her to readily agree to Mira’s orders, but she didn’t want to start a fight within Master’s earshot.
“Of course I’ll do it,” she forced a pleasant smile as she pulled herself away from the door. “I just do love to help you, Mira.”
She continued the happy demeanor as she walked down the hallway, but I saw her angrily shake her fist and mutter several obscene comments at Mira once she thought we could no longer hear.
I had chores of my own, but the hallway was empty and the open door was right before me. I knew I shouldn't have looked, but I wanted to know what Anya and Mira found so great about Alistair. What was it that made them attack each other just to get his attention? How could anyone be so great?
I hesitantly placed one hand on the wooden door and peered through.
The room was dim except for a single lamp on the desk that he was using to read. Alistair had his back towards me as he poured over several large mouldy books that were falling to pieces with age. He slowly read over each page, and would occasionally take notes with an ink pen like he was searching for something.
I carefully pushed the door open wider to get a better view, but that’s when I was exposed.
“Ethan,” he said without looking away from the page. I jumped in surprise. “If you’re so interested in what I’m doing, then why don’t you come inside?”
I slowly backed away in fear like I’d done something wrong, but then Master laughed like he could somehow see me. “There’s no need to be afraid Ethan. I won’t bite, much.”
Those words did nothing to calm my nerves and I was ready to flee for my life.
“I didn’t think you’d take it that literally,” he said. “Come in, please.”
He turned towards the door and beckoned me to come closer with a smile. I hesitantly pushed open the door and walked over to his desk.
“Sit,” he pointed to the empty seat beside him.
I sat while eyeing him nervously, like he may have been serious about the biting. I hadn’t been near Master since the first day I arrived, and I was still unsure about how I was supposed to behave before him. Mira said that I had to be extremely polite and do whatever he ordered, but she also told me to avoid Alistair as much as possible like she was paranoid of gaining another rival for his affection.
“Do you like books, Ethan?” He asked brightly.
“Books?”
“Yes, books of course. Why else would you be looking through the door so intently?”
“Ah..yes..books..” I’d never read a single book in my life. “Maybe.. perhaps.. Just a little..” I frantically scanned the books on his desk while trying to think of something intelligent to say. “I like….the paper.”
“That’s great Ethan,” he threw one arm over my shoulder and I was too slow to dodge it. He then pulled me closer and his grip was too strong to escape. “My ancestors weren’t the best of people, but luckily for you they managed to accumulate the best collection in town. There really isn’t anything else to do if you refuse to associate yourself with the neighbours.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” I said in a pathetic attempt to follow along with the conversation. “What’s this, Master?”
I pointed to the open page in the book before him. It was a picture of a vast mountain range covered in snow. I could almost hear the wind bellowing through the tall jagged peaks, and imagine the snow falling for days on end.
“This?” He scanned the text below the picture. “This is Hades Teeth, the coldest place in Hell. It says right here that even the strongest humans or demons have a difficult time travelling through here. The very top paths are reserved for fools and those looking to end their lives. Not a bad place if you’re running from something, right Ethan?”
The smile disappeared from his face and his expression became grim. I wanted to say something to break the dark atmosphere that had suddenly overcome the room.
“Wow, is that written here?” I pointed to the words beneath the picture. I couldn’t read, so they just looked like a bunch of illegible scribbles.
“Why of course, Ethan. Isn’t it-” He stopped mid sentence like the truth had just hit him. “By Azazel! You can’t read yet, can you?”
“Read?”
“Of course no one has taught you how to read yet, you only just got here,” he quickly sorted through his pile of papers and pulled out a blank sheet. “I’ll have to teach you now.”
“I’m fine Master,” I waved my hands to try and refuse. “I don’t want to trouble you. I don’t need to know how to read anyway.”
“Nonsense, Ethan. Everyone should learn how to read. Despite what some people might believe, it shouldn’t matter if you’re a human, demon, or soul.” He quickly drew a simple letter on the page with his pen. “This first one is a. You say it like the first sound of apple.
“A,” I repeated.
He then patiently explained every letter one by one for hours as I tried my best to remember.
“Okay, Ethan it’s time for a quiz,” he pointed to one letter on the page. “What’s this?”
“D!” I said confidently.
“That’s close Ethan, but actually, it’s B.”
“I’m so sorry Master!” I cried in despair. I felt devastated. He had used so much of his precious time to teach me something and I was an idiot who couldn’t remember anything.
“There’s no need to make a face like that,” he laughed and patted me on the back. You just need to practice, that’s all. You’re free to come in here and look at books whenever you like.”
“I’ll try my best Master,” I sobbed, but Alistair just picked up his pen and tried to teach me again.