By the D23 Team
They say that the world was such a wholesome place until she came around, but how did the infamous Cruella De Vil become the devious puppy thief we fear today? Serena Valentino’s new book, Evil Thing, lets us in on the backstory—told by the villainess herself! If you’re a fan of Disney villains, this book is a guaranteed page-turner. This tale is written as a memoir penned by Ms. De Vil herself, chronicling her best friends, true loves, daring dreams—oh, and there might be a curse involved somewhere in her history. Enticed? Intrigued? Feeling a sudden chill? Evil Thing is available for purchase now, but if you can’t wait to read this marvelous memoir, you can check out the excerpt below:
Ticktock, darlings! We can’t dwell in the past forever. But that’s exactly what I’m doing, isn’t it, in telling you my story? This chapter is hard for me, my dears. We are moving forward in time five years, to the summer I was sixteen, when my life changed forever in so many unforeseeable ways. In the weeks before and after my father’s death, Anita was my sole companion. Mama was off visiting her sister when Papa became ill, and we were having a heck of a time trying to reach her so we could let her know she should come home . . . Miss Pricket was away, too, tending to her sick aunt. I don’t know what I would have done if Anita wasn’t with me in those dark days.
His illness came on suddenly and without warning. My father’s Clark Gable smile and bright flashing eyes became dim and faded. He wasn’t the man I knew, the man who sat with me in the evenings before I went to sleep and brought me books of fairy tales and adventures, or priceless jade earrings from distant enchanted lands. The man who danced with me in my bedroom and made me laugh at the most inappropriate times. He was a shadow of himself, and I was afraid to see him like that. The doctor said his heart was weak, and it broke mine to see him so fragile and so pale. I wanted to remember him as strong, laughing, and cheeky.
When the doctor finally emerged from Papa’s room, I jumped. He lowered his eyes, and that’s when he told me.
“I’m sorry, Cruella,” he said.
I stood outside of his bedroom door for what felt like an eternity after the doctor left. After he told me my papa would die. I couldn’t fathom it. And I couldn’t bring myself to face him. I couldn’t let him see the look of grief on my face. I wanted to be strong for him, but I couldn’t do it.
Then Anita appeared, like an angel. Ever since she was a little girl she seemed angelic to me with her small features, light hair, and sharp little nose. If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was a lady. A real lady. And to me she was. The only things that gave her away were her bookishness, and the smart and efficient way she dressed. Anita wasn’t in for frills. She dressed sensibly, but she still managed to look stylish in her simple, light blue A-line skirt and pink blouse. She had been down in the kitchen with the servants arranging for the evening meal and generally acting in my mother’s place so I would be free to focus on my papa.
“Cruella, what are you doing? Are you okay?” she asked. Anita was taking care of everyone. Not only the servants, by keeping them informed and reassuring them, but me as well. I don’t know how she did it all.
“The doctor just left, Anita. He said . . .” She put her hand on my arm softly. She could tell I was about to cry.
“I know, Cruella, he told me,” she said, trying not to cry herself. “You must be devastated. How is your father doing now? Is he sleeping?”
“I haven’t been in since the doctor left. I can’t go in there, Anita. I can’t face him.” I was so afraid to see my father so frail. Perhaps if Mama had been there I could have been braver, but I couldn’t find the courage to say goodbye to him. I couldn’t face that he was actually leaving us.
“Of course you can, Cruella. You have to,” said Anita, squeezing my arm. “He loves you so much, Cruella. And I know you love him.”
“I wish Mama was here. Has Jackson tried calling again? She will be devastated if she . . .” Anita gave me a weak smile. She knew my mother would be grief-stricken if she wasn’t able to say goodbye.
“Oh, Cruella, I know. But even if he did reach her I don’t think she would be home in time. At least that’s how the doctor made it sound. I was so afraid that is what he would say. But Cruella, you have to be brave. You’re the strongest girl I know, and you have to be strong for your papa. Your mama isn’t here, and he needs you.” She took my hand sweetly, but I could feel her strength even in her light touch. I felt she was the strongest person I knew, aside from my mama. How else could she endure her life as it was, living between worlds, not fitting in with the servants downstairs or with the family upstairs? How else could she have taken my mama’s place and helped me through my papa’s illness? As far I was concerned, she was my family. “Go now, Cruella. Kiss your father before it’s too late. Tell him you love him. Tell him all the things you ever wanted him to know. Let him take your sweet words with him to a place you cannot follow.” I wanted to cry right then. Anita’s words touched me so deeply. But I had to be brave for my poor papa. I had to be strong.
His room was dark and stuffy. Not a place for such a great man to spend his final hours. In the dim light, I could hardly see him sleeping in his bed when I entered the room. His nurse was sitting in a chair nearby, dozing. A tiny beam of light from a small opening in the curtains reflected off her white uniform. She started awake when I opened the curtains, infusing the room with light.
“Miss Cruella! What are you doing? You will wake your father!” The groggy nurse blinked at the bright light with a very sour look on her face.
“It’s dreary in here,” I said, looking around the room. “Why don’t you make yourself useful and get the small record player from my father’s study and bring it in here?” The nurse looked shocked at my tone. I was a little shocked at it, too, to be honest. It just came out of me with no warning. But I had a plan.
“Excuse me?” was all the nurse could muster, blinking at me over and over and shielding her eyes from the sunlight that now poured into the room.
“Listen carefully,” I said, speaking concisely.
“Go into my father’s study, find the small record player, and bring it here. I won’t repeat myself again.” I said it all very slowly so the dim-witted nurse would understand. But still she looked at me, puzzled.
“I’m paid to be a nurse, Miss Cruella. Not a servant.” The jumped-up little nurse wasn’t having it. Well, neither was I.
“I see. Well, I doubt we’re paying you to fall asleep on the job! So if you can’t make yourself useful and get me that record player, then I suppose I will have to dismiss you. It’s up to you. You can be of
some use or leave. It’s very simple.” The woman went out of the room, and I rang the servants’ bell, not sure if she was coming back with the record player or not.
“Cruella, what are you up to? Causing mayhem and mischief as usual?” It was my papa. My little spat with the nurse had roused him. He looked so small to me in his bed. So frail. It broke my heart.
“Papa! I’m sorry I woke you.” And then I saw it, his mischievous smile. My papa was still in there. He hadn’t completely faded away. “Oh, Papa, let me help you.” I went to the bed to help him up as Jackson came into the room.
“Miss Cruella, let me do that,” he said as he helped my papa sit up in bed, putting pillows behind his head.
“There, isn’t that better, Papa? I have Mrs. Baddeley making you something special in the kitchen.”
“Thank you, my dear,” he said with his sweet cheeky smile.
“Miss Cruella.” A timid voice came from the doorway. “Did you ask the nurse to bring your father’s record player in here?” Our housemaid Paulie was standing at the door, apprehensively holding the record player.
“Yes, Paulie. Put it over there on the dresser, and tell Mrs. Baddeley my father is ready for his breakfast.”
“Yes, Miss Cruella.” She placed the record player on the dresser as I asked, then paused. “I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but the nurse is making quite a fuss in the entryway. I think she is leaving.” Before I could say I was happy to see that horrible nurse go, Paulie quickly left the room. Jackson cleared his throat. “Lord De Vil, is there anything else I can do?” The silent, strong, and stoic Jackson was standing there at the ready, sturdy as ever. He was our family’s rock.
“No, Jackson. I think Cruella has it all in hand.” Papa flashed his smile at me.
“Thank you, Jackson,” I said. “That will be all.” I went about the room opening all the curtains and turning on the record player. Papa’s favorite record was already on the turntable. It was one of his American jazz records, the ones Mama detested, so he always listened to them while he was alone in his study. “We can’t have you withering away in a dark and dreary room, now can we? We need a little life in here.” Papa smiled again and reached out his hand.
“Come here, Cruella. Come sit with me on the bed,” he said. But I didn’t want to. I knew if I sat with him I would cry. As long as I was busying myself around the room, as long as I had something to do, I could hold my composure. But I went to him anyway and tried my best to keep the tears from flooding down my face.
“Thank you, my dear,” he said. He was too weak to say more. I could tell it was a struggle to sit up, but what I wanted more than anything in that moment was to dance with him to his favorite song.
“I wish we could dance together, Papa. One last time.”
He laughed. “Like we used to in your room? I would love that, my dear. I’m so sorry I won’t be here to dance with you at your wedding.”
“I’m not getting married, Papa,” I said, but I could tell he didn’t believe me.
“Well, not now, my Cruella, but one day you will. And I only wish I could be there to see it.” I couldn’t hold my tears in any longer. “Don’t cry, my sweet girl. Come on, help me to my feet, my strong girl, and we will dance.”
“Papa, no! You can’t.”
“I am more stubborn than you, my girl. Where do you think you got it from? Now help me up. I want to dance with my daughter.”
And so we danced, as we might have on my wedding day, spinning in slow circles and swaying back and forth until he was too weak to stand. As I was about to help him back to his bed, the nurse bustled into the room.
What is the meaning of this? Lord De Vil, I must insist you get back into bed. What were you thinking, Miss Cruella? This is very irresponsible of you. You’re endangering your father’s life!” I glared at her. In that moment, there was no one I hated more. I felt myself fill with rage.
“Come on, Papa, let’s get you back onto the bed. I need to go into the hall and speak to the nurse.” After I helped my father and got him settled, I took that horrible girl by the arm and led her into the hallway. “I thought you were leaving. How dare you speak to me like that? I am a lady. I want you to leave this house at once!”
“I will not leave. Your father’s well-being is my responsibility.”
“I am taking care of my father. You are dismissed! Now leave!”
“Taking care of him indeed! Opening curtains, playing loud music, and dancing—with his heart! You are going to send him to his grave.”
“He was already on his way. I want to make sure his journey is a happy one. Not dull and dreary, having to look upon your sullen face. Now get out!” And off she went, complaining as she left, like the fool she was. I was relieved to see her go. As I was about to go back into my papa’s room, I thought I heard my mother’s voice down in the entryway. I ran to the landing to see if it was really her. I had lost hope she would come home before Papa passed. “Mama! Up here. Come quickly!” I said, calling from the top landing down to her. She looked up at me, startled, her attention briefly diverted from the wretched nurse, who was gesticulating angrily.
My mother’s startled expression turned to wrath as she looked at me, and my heart sank.
She rushed up the stairs. I had never seen her rush anywhere, not once in my entire life. She was in a fit of panic and rage. “Cruella! What is this I hear about you causing havoc in your father’s sickroom? And forcing him to dance? I can’t even look at you! Go to your room and stay there until I’ve sent for you.” I just stood there in shock, not moving. “Cruella, go now or I will slap you.” And she pushed past me into Papa’s room. I didn’t dare follow her I knew she would make good on her threat. I wasn’t sure what that damnable nurse had told her, but I didn’t imagine it cast me in the most favorable light. I heard my father’s music abruptly stop with the ugly sound of the needle scratching the record.
And then came my mother’s scream.
Papa had died, and I was sure my mother blamed me.