Ravenwood, Chapter 4 [fiction]

The Gold Hunt, Part 1:

It was Tuesday, two days after our visit to the police station when I met Vree at her favorite fishing hole. I was late getting to my typewriter because of a trip to see some of my mom’s relatives who were in town and at my grandma’s house. Afterwards, I had a standoff with a mean Chihuahua while I delivered newspapers on my paper route, mow the lawn when I got home, and then eat supper—everything on your plate, young man! By the time I caught up to Vree, it was after six o’clock.

She had just wrapped some catfish in newspaper when she said, “We’re twins.”

She had on a red T-shirt like mine, blue jeans, and white sneakers.

Coincidence?

She handed me the catfish and I spotted an interesting news article on the page wrapped around the fish.

PARENTS OF KIDNAPPED GIRL RECEIVE RANSOM NOTE
By LEE WESTFIELD, New Cambridge Times reporter
New Cambridge Police Chief Sanford Owens has reported to this newspaper that the parents of 16-year-old Laurie Burnett received a ransom note earlier this week asking for $500,000 in exchange for the girl’s safe return.
The girl has been missing since Monday night when she was last seen at a soccer game at New Cambridge High School located on East Hickory Street. Her parents, Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Burnett, became concerned when she did not return home after the game. The New Cambridge Police Department was notified and an investigation followed. No leads have been found.
Chief Owens said he and FBI Director James McNabb have advised the family to cooperate with the kidnappers and to do everything possible for the girl’s safety, including payment of the ransom.
Miss Burnett was the 1970 winner of the Miss New Cambridge Junior Beauty Pageant.
The police and FBI are continuing the investigation into the kidnapping.

“Wow,” I said, “wouldn’t it be cool if one of us found the kidnappers’ lair and foiled their plans? We would be heroes.”

“You watch too much TV,” Vree said, handing me another newspaper-wrapped package of fish.

“I do love a good mystery,” I told her while she picked up her pole and tackle box.

We headed to her Aunt Addi’s house to drop off some of the fish. I waited outside where someone had parked a ten-speed Schwinn racing bike in the front yard. I sat on it and pretended to ride it while I waited. It was a warm, quiet evening with less than three hours left and I was antsy to do something fun before the day ended.

When Vree came out, she went straight to the garage and wheeled out a five-speed bike that had seen better days. She had a coil of rope with her, slung over her left shoulder.

She made me get off her bike and follow her on the five-speed. We rode west and up a long and steep road to Myers Ridge. Along the way, she told me that there had been gold mines on Myers Ridge many years ago and that she knew where to find more near her home.

Myers Ridge was a woodsy end moraine with dairy farms, cow and horse pastures, and miles of secondary woods and brushy new-growth meadows caused by centuries of heavy tree cutting. We had gone about three miles when we came to a white and vintage two-story farmhouse. A lanky boy our age waited for us at the foot of a long driveway.

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 3 [fiction]

Official Town History:

In 1702, French fur hunters and trappers who traded with Native Americans and settlers migrating west along the Allegheny valley constructed a trading post in Pennsylvania called Amity. The village remained a trading post until 1747.

On March 12, 1800, the state formed Myers County from parts of Allegheny County. Frank Wood renamed Amity to Raven Wood in 1829 after his mother’s lineage: Raven and his father’s lineage: Wood.

Raven Wood grew into a sizable railroad town soon after the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859. On May 27, 1861, tracks owned by the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad intersected with those of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad and called the “Atlantic and Erie Junction.” Frank Wood owned land at the junction and sold a portion to the Atlantic and Great Western in October 1861. The railroad constructed a ticket office at the junction and named it for Raven Wood, but through a misspelling, it became Ravenwood.

The combination of railroad growth and the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania contributed greatly to Ravenwood’s development. The town went from a population of six hundred in 1861 to nine thousand in less than six months. Many surrounding forests were stripped of almost all of their valuable hardwood. Mills and farms sprang up on almost every conceivable spot.

The state recognized the boomtown as a borough in 1863 and designated it as a city in 1865.

Ravenwood’s Strange Lights:

Small, airborne green and yellow bumblebee-type creatures appeared in 1745, back when the town was  Amity. On the night of July 7, the glowing creatures swarmed over the town, hovered in the sky for an hour, then turned into thick, black ash that fell and settled on the town like tarry soot.

During cleanup, fever, madness and death seized most of the three-hundred-and-fifty townspeople. For five days, many of the afflicted suffered slow, agonizing deaths. Of the few who lived outside of town and were not afflicted, one was 19-year-old Ezekiel Wood. He recorded a grisly account about a fur trader who murdered his wife and two children while they slept, and then stuffed their corpses inside the belly of a slaughtered cow. Ezekiel also wrote of lunatics setting fire to the town. Nearly all the homes had both dead and living inside. Ezekiel, who was attending the sick, managed to escape the inferno by submerging himself in the local river. He was the only known survivor of the blaze, and he became great-grandfather to Ravenwood founder, Frank Wood.

No one has seen the lights again.

Every town has its urban legends and Ravenwood is no exception. There are the fabled cries of help from dead school kids who were on a bus that sank to the bottom of Three Mile Swamp, the lunatic with a hook for a hand who escaped from the prison at nearby New Cambridge, and Norman Myers’s ghost on Myers Ridge.

These stories and more crop up every Halloween.

Coming soon: More about Vree and other Ravenwood characters.

Ravenwood, Chapter 2 [fiction]

The Day I Met Vree Erikson:

Vree

It was a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon in September, sixty degrees and the blue sky mottled in places with clouds that looked like white cotton candy shreds. Church was over for most people in Ravenwood when I bobbed my fishing line in Myers Creek beneath Cherry Street’s cement bridge.

A blonde-haired girl in a blue T-shirt and jeans gave me the once over after she slid down the embankment and entered the narrow strip of grassy underside below the steel bridge. I stood far enough away so I didn’t happen to intrude on her favorite fishing spot, if she had one.

“Hey,” she said to me, a friendliness in her voice but edged with a note of suspicion.

I said it back, then left her alone until her hook and bait were submerged in the deep middle of the creek and a few cars had rumbled by overhead.

“Fish here often?” I asked when the disturbed dirt and dust had settled.

“Yeah.” She played her line. “Never seen you around before.”

I considered how to answer her question. “Just visiting,” I said.

She seemed okay with that, so I told her my name. She told me hers: “Vree … Vree Erikson.”

I asked her to repeat it—had I heard it right? Bree?

“V-r-e-e,” she spelled for me in a breath that sounded like an irritated sigh. Thoughts of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Bree and Middle-earth disappeared and we didn’t speak again for several minutes.

I reeled in my hook from the dark creek bed that must have been either occupied by sleeping fish or unoccupied by any fish at all when I heard two boys talking above us. One had a tenor voice, the other baritone. They sounded excited.

“How much do you think we got?” tenor asked. “Think we got a hundred or more?”

“We’ll count it when we get to my place,” baritone said.

“You’ll split it fifty-fifty. Right?”

“Quit whining and come on.”

Something plunked in the water to my right. Someone had thrown a rock from the bridge. The ripples settled and the voices had stopped when Vree said, “Sounds like they stole some money.” She approached and stood at my side. Like me, she had reeled in her hook and sinker.

“And who are they?” I asked, intrigued by the mystery.

“Craig Coleman and Morty Twitchel.”

“Morty Twitchel?” I said and screwed up my nose. “What kind of name is that?”

“Morton the moron. That’s what a lot of kids call him. He has some kind of nasal problem the doctors can’t fix because his dad broke his nose a few times. I used to feel sorry for him until he started hanging around Craig. Craig’s the meanest kid in Ravenwood.”

“I take it you don’t get along with Craig.”

“No one gets along with him. Except for Morty. He and Craig are almost inseparable, which doesn’t make sense.”

“How come?”

Vree removed her wet, lifeless worm and tossed it into the creek. “Craig’s dad stabbed and killed Morty’s dad in a bar fight at the Edge of Town Tavern last summer.”

“So Craig’s dad killed the guy using Morty’s face as a punching bag.”

“And now Craig and Morty are best friends.” Vree shook her head. “Go figure.” She went to her tackle box. I followed.

“So where is this tavern?” I asked. “So I can stay far away from it.”

“On Lake Road toward Alice Lake,” she said, snapping a plastic lid on her coffee can of worms.

“Maybe they should rename the place The Prancing Pony.”

Vree didn’t get my Tolkien reference, so I shuffled to my own tackle box and closed it up. My head was full of thoughts about Hobbits right then.

“Where are you going?” I asked when I caught up to Vree. We were on the bridge by then and heading toward downtown.

“Police station,” she said. “I figure if anyone reports a robbery, the cops should know to question Craig and Morty.”

I followed her to the station house next to the fire station and waited outside the red brick building while she went in and reported what we had overheard. When she came out, I tagged along to a square, yellow house with white rose bushes in the front yard. She invited me in, but I declined her offer. It was suppertime and I would have to get ready for evening church soon.

A brown-haired woman called from the front door. “I just sent Dave and Amy to the store. You’re supposed to wait here for them if your mom comes before they get back.” She was pretty with long, straight hair like Vree’s and a pleasant face. She smiled at me and I smiled back.

“Dave and Amy are my cousins,” Vree said to me when I inquired. “We live on Myers Ridge but they must be visiting my Aunt Addi. She has no kids, so she pays us to do chores for her.” She smiled at me before she went inside. I stopped writing for the day.

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 1 [fiction]

Introduction:

My mother telephoned one day in 2001, said she had been clearing her attic and found a large box of mine, and asked if I wanted it. Curious about its contents, I said I did and drove to her house. Inside a cardboard box were items from my boyhood years: pencil drawings, photographs, report cards, 45-rpm records, baseball cards, and three 3-ring binders filled with notes and stories about a fictional town called Ravenwood and some of the people who lived there.

I was 9 when I fell in love with creating make-believe worlds. They were escapes from boredom when I was unable to leave the house and play with friends. At 13, Ravenwood was a favorite place to go to. I went to it often, recording my visits and turning them into a personal diary. You see, I not only wrote about my adventures, I interacted with my characters, which was an unconventional way of writing but one I enjoyed doing. I grew with my characters and they grew with me. We had good and bad times and everything between.

At high school, teachers tried guiding me toward conventional storytelling. They wanted me to be an anonymous observer. But I resisted. I was part of my characters’ world. They had become my friends and I theirs. They looked forward to seeing me as much as I did them. My imagination had become a reality.

At 18, I stopped writing my fictional diaries. It was a difficult transition into a new life that left little time for writing. At 19, I pursued a career in food service management, which led me to places all over the globe. During my travels, my love for art grew and I made time to study art. It had always been my second passion and I was good at it. Five years later, I married, settled, painted and taught art in my spare time, and raised a family.

When I opened those notebooks in 2001 and read my fictional diaries, I knew I wanted to share them with the world. So follow me, if you will, to the 1970s, to a place called Ravenwood, and the friends I made there.

(To be continued. Check back for more about Ravenwood.)