Ravenwood, Chapter 11 [fiction]

Hellhounds, a Spooky Story:

Vree Erikson, the pretty girl who lived atop Myers Ridge, became my favorite fictional person to write about during the 1971-1972 school year. It was also when my stories took a turn for the unexplained.

After our Halloween meeting at Dave and Amy’s place, I saw her again one November Saturday night in 1971 when I sat at my typewriter after supper and went to visit her, Dave, and Amy. We all wore jeans and sweatshirts and Dave wore a yellow windbreaker jacket. They waited at the campfire and a circle of lawn chairs behind the barn at Dave and Amy’s place. Vree and Amy sat cross-legged in lawn chairs on the other side of the fire, whispering and giggling. When Amy saw me, she actually patted the empty chair next to her and told me to sit. I chose the empty chair next to Vree and sniffed at the aromas of hotdogs, wood smoke, and Vree’s perfume that smelled like oranges. Her long blonde hair looked golden in the firelight, and she had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Dave said to me from across the fire, seeming to awaken from a trance after Vree gave me a whittled stick and a hotdog to roast. “Take a look at the Myers place and tell me what you see.”

I had to turn around since old Myers Mansion languished behind me, inside a thicket of property below the side yard. The place was barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover above us, so I squinted at the dark and spooky shapes of the long-ago abandoned house.

“What am I supposed to see?” I asked. I knew that a famous Broadway playwright named Joseph Myers had built the once prominent house ninety years ago before he and his wife disappeared.

“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. “Always with the ghosts.”

“Actually, apparitions of some dogs. Three of them as plain as day.” Dave held up three fingers for us to see. He said to me, “They vanished when I told the girls about them. But I saw them again right before you came.”

“Dogs can be ghosts?” I asked.

“Myers bred hunting dogs,” Dave said between large bites taken from a roasted hotdog. “Then one hot summer day he and his wife and dogs froze to death inside the house. So, yeah, dogs can be ghosts, just like people can be ghosts.”

Amy groaned. “If they really froze to death, where are the photos or the newspaper articles?” She turned to me. “No one knows how or why Joseph and Emma Myers vanished, but the police concluded they died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean. Joseph was a pilot and owned his own airplane. The plane vanished during the same time they did.” She looked back at her brother. “But you go on believing your make-believe nonsense.” She popped a peppermint Life Saver candy into her mouth and offered Vree and me some.

“Those dogs died,” Dave said. “Whether they froze to death or died because they starved to death when Myers didn’t come back from vacation, they died.”

His words silenced us. Then Vree spoke up.

“Grandma believes a witch killed them and hid their bodies somewhere.”

Dave sat forward. “She told you this?”

“I read it in one of her old diaries by accident. We were cleaning her attic. She took the book from me before I could read anything else.”

“I can’t believe she would write such a thing,” Amy said.

“Well, it’s true … the diary, I mean. She wrote it. I saw it. She believes a witch killed her parents.”

Again, we were silent, only a lot longer this time.

I glanced at where a field of rolling land ran a half-mile behind the house to the steep-sided cliffs overlooking Alice Lake. I had drawn the field, the cliffs and lake, and the houses and people here. They were my creations, but I knew little about them.

Who was this witch Vree spoke about?

I pulled my overcooked hotdog from the fire and ate it without a bun or any dressing, and snuck glances at quiet Vree sky gazing. A stick snapped behind us and caused me to turn partway around. The dark shape of a human figure stepped into our circle of chairs. She passed her right hand in front of her face and the fiery hues of the campfire brightened, revealing a stunning woman. Flame glinted from her long black hair, her bronze face, and her long, sweeping black dress tied off at the waist. A white lace collar hung around her neck, and pearl buttons sparkled in a row between her ample breasts.

She stopped at the fire and seemed to float to the grass. She tucked her legs beside herself and covered her bare feet beneath her dress.

No one said anything. Vree still gazed at the sky, Amy looked asleep, and Dave seemed mesmerized by the fire again. Even the flames had stopped moving.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

“I’m sorry,” the woman said. “I don’t want to trespass on your gathering, but you beckoned me.”

“Who beckoned you?” I asked.

She looked at me with mesmerizing and penetrating eyes—blacker than either her hair or dress or the rubies set in the gold rings she wore on eight fingers and two thumbs. “You did, young sir. I could not deny your invitation or resist warming at your fire.” She smiled for a moment, stretching bright red lips over the whitest teeth I had ever seen.

“I didn’t beckon anyone,” I said.

“Of course you did. You’re the one I seek.” She smiled again. Then, “May I rest a moment?” she asked. “The air is almost breathtaking tonight.”

“Who are you?” I asked again.

“And why do you mistake me for—” she leaned closer to me, “a gypsy? No … you think me a witch.”

“Are you? A witch?”

“Yes,” she said, drawing the word out like a hiss. “I am a witch. So was my mother. She came here from Brazil and I was born on the lake during a full moon. This land was my home for many years until an accident and anger destroyed my life.” Her words and dark gaze held my attention. “Now I’m but a spirit conjured from Yalendora.”

“I have never heard of Yalendora.”

“Yet you created it and everything and everyone here.” She scowled at me. “You’re but a child with a creative imagination, but you let it run wild, hither thither. You have much to learn about the place you generate from your untamed cleverness.” She stopped scowling. “Know the land and the people here—their secrets—and you will know me and you better.”

She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat.

“Where there is good, there is evil,” she said. “Yin and yang. Beware the evil you conjured here tonight.”

“Evil?” I sat back, her words like a blow to my chest. “What evil?”

“The evil you brought to life, cursing this land and threatening to take the life of one of you tonight.” She vanished.

The fire crackled as it came back to life. Then Dave seemed to awaken from his trance and said, “What were we talking about?”

“Ghost dogs,” Amy said, shaking her head for a moment before opening her eyes. “Always ghosts.”

“Look,” Dave said. He pointed at the Myers property. “Another ghost. It has to be Joseph Myers!”

The glowing apparition of a human figure walked in front of the trees hiding the old mansion. Then the ghostly image wavered and disappeared.

“Tell me you saw that,” Dave said.

“Saw what?” Amy asked.

“That ghost that was there. A human ghost. It glowed just like the dogs I saw earlier.”

Dogs barked savagely from the Myers property, as if cued by Dave’s words.

“They sound like hellhounds,” he said. “The spirits of dogs can come back as hellhounds to guard properties from trespassers.”

“Another stupid tall tale,” Amy said.

“I hear them,” I said, though not very enthusiastically. I hoped this wasn’t the evil the witch had meant.

“Really?” It was Vree who spoke. She stood and peered at the trees. She gasped when a pack of nine dogs charged from the thicket and lined up in front of it, looking at us with angry faces, each growling low and guttural. There were white hounds with black and brown patches, some rough-coated terriers, and a shorthaired pointer that stood in the middle and was taller than the rest. They stood out as if they were beneath a noon sun. And their eyes glowed fiery red, which caused me to stand and take a step back.

“Let’s get to the house,” Dave said, stumbling from his chair and almost knocking it over.

“We should go,” I said, standing up and reaching out and pulling on one of Vree’s shoulders.

The growls rose in both pitch and volume moments before the dogs charged up the hill in unison, coming at us.

“Run,” Dave yelled.

Amy turned and looked at me. “What’s going on?” she asked. Her face bore a pained expression. “This can’t be real.”

Vree screamed and I stopped writing.

She and Dave and Amy were my creations. So were the witch and ghosts … everything in and of Ravenwood.

But the bottom line was there was much about my creations I didn’t know.

Ravenwood had started as a safe haven for me to go to—an escape from reality. But Ravenwood was a living and breathing reality inside my mind, and a living and breathing reality to the people who read my stories.

It was up to me to take control of that reality. To harness it and make it my own.

But how?

Ravenwood had a life of its own that came to me in dreams and during moments of contemplation. I could only record it and hope for an interesting and entertaining outcome. Whenever I had changed events in past stories, they seemed lifeless—dead events that were no more than lies.

Vree screamed again. The hellhounds chased her and Amy. They followed Dave toward the backdoor.

Three glowing hounds appeared at the doorstep, placed there by some twisted magic. They snarled and blocked entry into the house, which was lit up inside and looked safe and inviting.

Dave dodged left and Vree and Amy followed him into the field behind the barn.

“We’re heading for the cliffs,” Amy said.

“Just run,” Dave cried out.

Vree glanced behind her and reported to the others, “The dogs are following us. They don’t look friendly … their eyes are still glowing red.”

“Just keep going and don’t be scared,” Dave said. “There’s a patch of hobblebush near the cliffs. They can’t follow us through it. It’s like poison to them.”

“What’s hobblebush?” Amy asked.

“Some people call it Devil’s Shoestring. The roots are poisonous to hellhounds and other demons.”

Vree pressed him and Amy to hurry. The growling hellhounds had closed their distance behind them to less than thirty yards.

In a puff of green smoke, a white hound appeared on the path in front of them, blocking the way.

Dave stopped and stared wildly at the green glowing dog. Amy stopped behind him, but Vree left the path and ran from a Hungarian Pointer that had decided to charge from the pack.

She plowed blindly into brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed her, snagged her mittens and scratched her hands, and scarred her clothes. Her drumming heart climbed into her throat when she realized she could not outrun the dog chasing her. Her inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans.

She stumbled when she entered a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge. There was nowhere else to go.

The Hungarian Pointer hellhound entered the clearing and stopped. It lowered its head and raised its rear end in the air like a wolf that had just pinned its prey.

“I’m not your enemy,” Vree yelled as she backed to the edge of the cliff.

The dog charged. Vree flinched and lost her balance, stumbling backward over the steep precipice.

She plummeted on her back through icy air and into the icier waters of Myers Lake. Her aching throat released a yelp of surprise as the water enveloped her like a brutal winter blast. Her world darkened as she sank into shock and more darkness.

When she came to her senses, she took off her mittens and swam. Her sweatshirt and jeans encumbered her arms and legs as she kicked and swam toward the silver moonlight that rippled on the black surface above.

Her lungs ached to release the little breath she held. She fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe.

How many times had she dived into the lake and swum these waters with ease?

But never with barely any air in her lungs or when the lake was this cold.

Her movements slowed with every thrust of her arms and kick of her legs.

The surface was still out of reach. She could hold her breath no longer. She was going to drown.

A shimmering outstretched hand broke through the water’s surface and came for her. It bore five black ruby rings, blistering from the gold of each ring. The hand grabbed her by the wrist. The fingers felt like hot steel as the hand yanked her upwards. Water roared past her ears.

The pain in her chest was severe. She needed to open her mouth and fill her lungs.

But not now. Not yet.

She broke the surface. Icy air hurt her exposed skin. She sucked in a huge breath of air, gasping, choking, and wheezing for more.

The hand released her. She dropped to all fours on a large flat boulder and retched lake water. Her body shook from the cold that burned at her bones.

Strands of her long hair clutched her face, and other strands dropped water onto the rock. More water fell from her sweatshirt, which clung to her back and weighed against her shoulders.

She stopped sucking in air and raised her head.

“Your cousins are safe,” the witch said. She was as dry as when she had sat at their fire earlier. “I saw what happened, but I was too late to keep you from falling.”

Still weak and exhausted, Vree shivered wet and cold at the witch’s bare feet. “Who are you?” she asked, forcing the words through a mouth that trembled from the cold burning inside her.

The witch was quiet while she studied Vree with a troubled scowl. Then, “I am someone who was at the right place at the right time.”

Dave cried out Vree’s name from atop the cliff. The witch placed the palms of her hands atop Vree’s head for a moment, then helped her to stand. Ice water fell from Vree’s clothes.

“Answer him,” the witch said; “you are safe now.”

Warmth filled Vree. She turned from the witch, called out, and told Dave that she was okay. “I owe you my life,” she said, turning back. But the witch had vanished. “Thank you,” she said to the emptiness, then left the boulder and headed to the footpath that would lead her away from the cliffs.

When she reached the road home, the way lay in darkness. But she had traveled the road many times. And though she knew the way, this time was different. This time, she knew it led her on a journey to something important in her life. Something life changing and probably dangerous.

She swallowed, took a deep breath, and started up the hill.

The End … for now.

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