I recently found this on a backup floppy disk, lol. My friend Lola Gentry-Dey and I wrote this in 2001 for a story I started way back in 1974. Our ending went through many manifestations before we scrapped the project.
Ashley stood, uncertain of where to look first, when one of Jerry’s beefy hands clutched her by the shirt and pulled her against him. His fist snapped the front clasp of her bra. For a moment, she recalled Daryl’s hard and aggressive hands there while they embraced in her bedroom. For a moment, she remembered being in love before love turned into anger, and then hatred.
“Do you guys see it?” Jerry shouted as he released his grip. His attention focused again on the burned remains of the house below them.
Ashley pulled her arms inside her shirt and struggled out of her bra while she looked down at and saw Ben Myers’s ghost walk across the ash and grasses that had once been a living room floor.
“No,” Sherry and Daryl said beside her.
“It’s real. Ben Myers’s ghost is really real,” Jerry said. He looked happy for a moment. Then fear contorted his face into an image of shocked realization. His breathing became forced. “It’s … real.” He stumbled backwards, tripped over his guitar in front of his tent and fell hard on his butt.
The ghostly image below them wavered and disappeared. Nine barking hounds took Ben Myers’s place and barked at the four teenagers atop the hill.
“H-hellhounds,” Jerry said. “I hear them.” He looked deathly white in the midnight moonlight.
“I hear them, too,” Sherry said. She looked startled as she drew closer to Daryl.
Ashley also heard the dogs. Their vicious barking below had grown louder. She watched them assemble shoulder to shoulder at the bottom of the hill.
“They’re coming to get us,” she said. She looked at a frightened Sherry, then at a squinting Daryl. The confused look on his face told her that he didn’t see the hounds.
“You guys are crazy,” he said.
Pounding of paws against the ground kept Ashley from telling him that they weren’t crazy. She stumbled back as she saw the hounds charging up the hill.
“Run,” Jerry said. He had used his guitar to force himself up. He dropped the guitar next to the campfire and hurried away, running between the tents.
“Jerry, come back,” Sherry hollered before the surging howl of hounds drowned out her voice. She ran after her brother across the brushy ground illuminated by moonlight.
“We need to go,” Ashley said to Daryl. She spun, threw down her brassiere, and started after Sherry and Jerry. But fear gripped her body like a winter chill and made her legs sluggish as she tried to run.
Daryl sputtered as he watched her leave. “You’re all crazy.” He pointed down the hillside. “There’s nothing there.” He went to his tent as the barking grew louder. Ashley turned and saw the dogs rush into view. They passed through Daryl and the tents, followed by a swarming cluster of tiny blue-green blinking will-o-wisps. Ashley turned and kicked her run into high. Tears of fear stung her eyes. She wanted so much to be unafraid, to be a nonbeliever like Daryl. He was safe in his blind world.
But she saw. And she was damned by it.
She ran along a path between an angry black sea of brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed at her, tore strands of her long hair, scratched her face and forearms, and scarred her shirt and blue jeans.
The hounds and blinking lights came fast at her. Her pounding heart pushed at her chest as she fought past the briars. Her fear of losing the race, of not escaping, climbed into her throat and was blocked by the hard lump of a scream lodged there. She gasped to breathe; her inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers.
Then she was past the briars. Jerry and Sherry stood at the edge of Myers Ridge, silhouetted against the starry night sky. She ran to her best friends, afraid for them, terrified of what would happen when the horrible creatures behind her caught up to them.
As she took a place between them, she turned and faced the evil coming from the night.
“Stop,” she managed to say. She caught her breath and yelled at the dogs to leave her and her friends alone.
The dogs halted, shoulder to shoulder, panting and growling and slobbering. The green will-o-wisp lights hovered above the dogs, blinking and shifting, and buzzing with an energy that Ashley had never heard before.
She put her arms across the backs of her friends, loving them, knowing that having them at her side was giving her courage to face the evil that had chased them here to the cliff tops of Myers Ridge. Then she stood tall and said,
“Creator of day and night,
Protect us with your might.
In this place and in this hour,
By the guardians here tonight,
Remove the fears from our hearts
And clear the evil in our sight.”
As she finished, the will-o-wisp lights vanished. Then, one by one, the hounds vanished until one remained. Red eyes glared at Ashley as the hound uttered a growl and leapt at her, striking her chest with its forepaws and pushing her over the edge.
As the hound’s teeth snapped at her throat, Ashley’s hands shot out and the left one found the back of Jerry’s sweaty T-shirt. She clutched shirt and skin as her legs swung wide and she hovered for a moment in midair. Then her lower body crashed against the cliff side and the force knocked loose her grip of Jerry.
The hound vanished as she fell away from Jerry.
For a moment, as though time had slowed to almost a standstill, she thought about her shy and lonely life. It passed before her until she faced that day last month when she promised her parents and herself to make friends. And, although difficult, she had made friends with Jerry and Sherry. And doing so, she had found a sense of belonging with them—an intimacy she’d been afraid of for so long.
And now her new life was ending. She was going to die.
She reached out for her two friends, one last gesture to hang on to life and her dream of being lonely no more.
A pair of beefy hands lunged at her and caught her extended forearms. Jerry yelled for Sherry to help. Four sweaty hands grabbed her arms and pulled. They grabbed her armpits and shoulders and pulled harder. They grabbed the back of her blue jeans and pulled harder still. She grabbed their feet and ankles, used their legs as lifelines, and hauled herself closer to them until their heaving bodies lay exhausted on the ground, arms and legs entwined, the three of them hugging and kissing and crying.
Then Sherry stood, standing over Ashley and looking new as she offered the girl a hand. Ashley took it and grinned as Sherry helped her up. Together, they help Jerry up. Ashley hugged him and thanked him again before the three walked arm-in-arm back to the camp.
There, Daryl waited, sitting at the fire and roasting a hot dog on a stick. When the three joined him, he listened to Ashley’s tale of almost dying while Jerry and Sherry took turns interjecting with their tales of rescue.
“I saw them,” Sherry said, putting her arm around Ashley.
“I did, too,” Jerry said. “They’re real.”
Daryl studied his best friend’s solemn face. Then, “For real?” he asked.
“For real,” Jerry and Sherry said together.
Daryl nodded at Ashley. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Ashley shrugged. She was certain that his apology was for Jerry’s benefit. But it didn’t matter. Her attention was elsewhere. Ben Myers’s ghost and his unfortunate hounds were cursed to haunt the old, incinerated house forever. And Daryl, who liked to tell ghost stories and scare others with them, would never see their ghosts … or any ghosts, for that matter. He was damned and so was she. And maybe, if she tried hard enough, they could be damned together.