Ravenwood, Chapter 7 [fiction]

Halloween Tales, Part 1:

On Halloween night, 1971, I visited Vree and her cousins behind the Everly house. I met Dave and Amy’s dad, Parker, who was Ravenwood’s high school art teacher. I love to draw and paint, so I was comfortable talking to him about the subject. Art was also Vree’s passion and Parker, who insisted I not call him Mr. Everly—“I hear that at school all the time”—told me that Vree painted beautiful landscapes.

I insisted to see one and she told me I would have to wait until another time.

It was there that I discovered her first name was actually Verawenda and that Vree was a nickname, a result of her initials VRE, which stood for Verawenda Renee Erikson.

She and her cousins—Dave, mostly—gave me a grand tour of the Everly homestead. The house was a vintage 4-bedroom farmhouse (circa early 1900’s). The largest bedroom upstairs was Parker’s art studio. Amy’s bedroom was a smaller room, and Dave’s bedroom was the smallest, which had bunk beds. Dave always took the top bunk.

Downstairs, the house had an eat-in country kitchen with Pergo flooring and a wall of floor to ceiling cabinets. French doors separated the family room from the living room. The living room’s bay window faced Ridge Road and had a reading seat built below. The room was also the family library. Among the several shelves of books were Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson; The Old Curiosity Shop and Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens; Moby-Dick by Herman Melville; The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C S Lewis—all of them classics in literature. Also among those old books was Dracula by Bram Stoker, which was a favorite of Dave’s. Mine too.

Dave liked to watch horror shows on television. So did I. The daytime TV Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows—a series about witches, ghosts, vampires and werewolves that ran from 1966 to 1971—had been a favorite. (Later, TV movies The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973) starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, would prove to be fun and chilling to watch. In fact, they, along with earlier TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, and the films Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), The Bad Seed (1956), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Innocents (1961), and Rosemary’s Baby (1968), influenced my writing during my spookier visits to Myers Ridge.)

We eventually made it back outside to the campfire where Parker had arranged a circle of folding lawn chairs. I sat next to Vree, who sat next to her uncle, the only adult at the house then. His wife, Sunni—Vree’s maternal aunt and the high school music and English teacher—was at the school for a Halloween musical that involved grades four to six.

Parker passed around a plate of hotdogs, which he had already roasted over the fire, then passed around packages of buns before he began telling us about seeing a ghost walking through the backyard while we were inside.

“It was Norman Myers’s ghost, probably looking for the person who killed him. But that person is likely a ghost too.”

I chuckled and he said to Amy who sat on the other side of him, “We have a skeptic. You two should get along famously.”

Amy scowled at him and said nothing.

He turned to me and said, “I first saw Norman’s ghost when I was a Boy Scout hiking the hillsides with my troop. We’ve all seen him, except Amy. But if you believe, then you may see him from the corner of your eye as he searches for his murderer.”

I didn’t know much about Norman Myers, so Dave gave me a quick history lesson.

Myers Ridge received its official name in 1801 when Jonah Myers purchased the property from the state. Jonah Myers and his family were sheep and goat farmers during a time when the wool industry was strong. Later, in 1891, Jonah’s grandson Norman found gold on his property. For a decade, he and his family hauled out ores and precious metals and occasionally squabbled over mining rights. Then, according to legend, Norman’s mines dried up ten years later, on the very anniversary of his discovery. Not long afterwards, Norman disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Some suspected James McCoy, an angry business partner, murdered him. Soon afterward, people reported seeing Norman’s ghost haunting the hill. His family claimed his body lay inside one of his many abandoned mines and would haunt the land until either he found his killer, or someone found his bodily remains and gave him a proper burial.

I chewed on my hotdog and for a moment, I thought I saw a wispy shape pass across the dark backyard.

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 6 [fiction]

The Game:

I love playing and watching baseball games. I was on my high school’s baseball team for four years, didn’t see much action, so it was more fun playing Pony League in the summer (until I became too old) and sandlot ball with my friends. We also played softball for a local church team. Vree and Dave played softball for their local church team too and they invited me to watch a game.

I arrived late—chores, of course—and seated myself at the top row of the bleachers behind home plate and a few feet to the left of Amy Everly, Dave’s younger sister. She had curly brown hair that framed an oval, soft face. During the game, she clapped her small, delicate hands while she cheered her brother and cousin on.

Amy

“Who’s winning?” I asked her.

She stopped cheering and addressed me with a cool look. “Bottom of the seventh,” she said. “Nazarenes are up five to four.” She then told me that Johnny Blake, the Nazarenes’ pitcher, had been throwing change-ups and heated fisticuff strikes all game long and was still striking out batters

I thanked her and cheered for Vree and Dave’s team, New Gospel, to win.

Dave began the final half-inning by fouling the first pitch from Johnny Blake. I admired Blake’s determination to win, but it was Dave’s determination I admired more.

He fouled the second pitch straight back, which cleared the backstop and practically landed in my lap. I gave the ball to Amy.

“For you, mademoiselle,” I said when I handed it to her.

She screwed up her nose, threw the ball back onto the field, and slid away from me, putting several feet of space between us.

The New Gospel players inside the dugout at the first base side of the field, all called for Dave to hit the ball. For a skinny guy, he had broad shoulders and muscular forearms, which I figured gave him an excellent chance to clout a four-bagger and tie the game.

Blake’s next pitch came in low at Dave’s knees and dropped before it reached home plate. Dave swung a windmill cut at the ball and missed it by the proverbial baseball mile. The ball scooted under the catcher and umpire and zipped straight to the backstop. Dave, aware of his mistake, never hesitated. He raced to first base as the catcher caught up with the ball and threw to first base. The speedy Dave Everly beat the throw.

Vree headed to the batter’s box.

“Just make contact,” Amy yelled.

“She’s no hitter,” the third baseman yelled out to his teammates. Then to Blake, “Strike her out.”

Vree poised herself well at the plate and hit the first pitch—wham, bam—right into the third baseman’s glove. In a matter of a second, she had lined out. The next batter grounded into a double play: 6 to 4 to 3. The teams met at home plate in a game ending ritual of touching hands and saying “Good game” to one another.

Amy stood up and prepared to leave. I introduced myself. She scowled at my outstretched hand, did a quick about-face, and sprinted down the bleachers.

“Pleasure to meet you, anyway,” I said to her fleeing backside. Then, moments later, I, too, headed down the bleachers.

More to come.

Ravenwood, Chapter 5 [fiction]

The Gold Hunt, Part 2:

Dave

Dave Everly, Vree’s cousin, was a year older than Vree and me. And according to the blue T-shirt he wore, his school may have been Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. I didn’t ask.

He had thick, dark brown hair, bright, greenish blue eyes, and was scrawnier and an inch taller than me.

After we exchanged pleasantries in his driveway, we rode the blacktopped Ridge Road almost a mile before we ditched our bikes in a field of tall grass and followed a well-traveled deer path to a swampy outcropping along the eastern edge of Myers Ridge. Vree, our leader, put up her right hand for us to stop.

“This is where I spotted gold the other day,” she said. “Come on.”

Dave and I followed until we stood at the edge of a cliff. Twenty feet below us, water trickled from the hillside, fell, splattered on rock farther down, and fell again to Alice Lake far below.

“You spotted gold where?” I asked, peering over the edge.

“Trust me,” Vree said. She got busy and helped Dave with the rope she had brought. She tied her end to a young hornbeam tree, which some of my relatives call ironwood. Then Dave harnessed his end to Vree and lowered her to where water exited the side of Myers Ridge. She dug around at the wet ground, pulled up rocks, examined them closely, and tossed them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so I returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure Vree’s knot still held. It did.

A red squirrel inspected the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy. It was likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called me back.

We hoisted a grinning Vree to us and she proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when I held it.

“Think there’s more?” Dave asked. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold.

Vree shrugged and blew into her hands. “I should have brought gloves,” she said before taking the rock away from me.

“What are you going to do with it?” Dave asked.

Vree shrugged again. “Melt it, maybe, and make a bracelet. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”

“We should go down there tomorrow and look for more,” Dave said.

Vree sighed. “I have a dentist appointment in the morning and then shopping at the mall with my mom. We’d only have the evening to look for more.”

“How about this weekend?” I asked. “We could even check the mines you told me about.”

Dave’s eyes widened. “Are you crazy? Some of those mines have caved in. And they’re infested with rattlesnakes.”

Cliffs at Myers Ridge during autumn
Cliffs next to Alice Lake in summer

“I’m not saying we go in the mines. I’m saying that the ground outside may have bits of gold that someone may have dropped.”

“I don’t know,” Vree said. “Some of the underground mines have caused sinkholes where the ground collapsed. Those things are just as dangerous as the mines.” She looked up at the evening sky. “It’s getting late. I have to get home. What’s your phone number, Steve? I’ll call you and we’ll discuss it.”

“I don’t remember,” I lied. “But I’ll be in town this weekend.”

We decided to meet at noon on Saturday at Dave’s driveway. Then we headed back. We had gone more than a quarter mile, perhaps 600 yards, when the flash of light caught out attention. It was sunlight reflecting off the chrome of a green sedan off in a field to our left. We stopped.

“That’s an abandoned road to one of the mines,” Dave said.

A field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed hid the road, but a vehicle had obviously driven on it recently since the tires had flattened the grass.

“My Spidey sense is tingling,” Vree said. I chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when I saw the car back up to turn around.

“Hit the deck,” Vree shouted. We dove for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. I pressed myself close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of my borrowed bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.

The green sedan reached Ridge Road and stopped. We were ten yards away. Had the driver seen us? I kept still, even when a horsefly bit one of my sweaty arms and sucked my blood for what seemed like several minutes before the car turned onto the road and drove away.

I unclenched my jaw and let out a groan before I slapped at the murderous fly. Vree scrambled down the overgrown road, heading toward the mine. Dave and I followed and caught up to her at the mouth of the cave, which someone had boarded up with old barn wood planks. We pulled the boards away and Vree and I entered a musty smelling cavern.

“Snakes,” Dave said behind me.

I froze. “Where?”

“I’m just saying there could be rattlers,” he said, pushing past me. “Watch your step.”

The mine changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther we went. We passed an old rail cart covered with empty burlap sacks.

A thought came to me that we should look inside the cart. Then, as though she had read my mind, Vree ran to it and pulled away the sacks.

We found 16-year-old Laurie Burnett bound and gagged inside. She seemed okay and was very relieved and thankful to be free. She was also very angry at the ordeal her captors had put her through, and she used some naughty words to describe them to us while we led her back to Dave’s house.

A day later, the police caught the two criminals, who turned out to be Emergency Medical Technicians at New Cambridge Hospital where Laurie’s dad was a surgeon. That Saturday, he drove to Dave’s house and rewarded Vree, Dave and I with one hundred dollars each. I split my money with Vree and Dave before we went looking for more gold.

We never found any.

More Ravenwood stories coming soon.