My last blog post dealt with changing the title of my e-novel Night of the Hellhounds to Margga’s Curse. As I said, the novel began forty-some years ago as a short story called “Ghost Dogs.” I was in high school and enjoyed writing fiction from the perspective of two teenage male protagonists, Lenny Stevens and Dave Evans until a creative writing teacher challenged me to write from the perspective of a teenage female protagonist. I did well on the assignment and ended up writing about a teen girl’s spooky encounter with some ghost dogs. The story began
My name is Nancy Louise Johnson. I’ll never forget the night I almost died. Vicious ghost dogs were snapping at my heels when I slipped on some gravel and fell over the steepest side of Myers Ridge.
The day began like most August days in Ridgewood, Pennsylvania: hot and humid. Every hour, the weatherman at our local radio station promised more of the same, and every hour since seven o’clock that morning my twelve-year-old sister Krissy groaned from her spot in Dad’s huge recliner. It was Friday and as usual, I was babysitting. Dad was at work and Mom and my big brother Ted were shopping in nearby New Cambridge for a new air conditioner.
Nancy is a tomboy and likes camping. Her two male friends visit and invite her to camp with them on Myers Ridge. There’s a bit of sexual tension between her and one of the boys whom she has developed a crush on, so she battles her internal voices until the ghost dogs arrive and give everyone a scare. The dogs cause Nancy to fall from the ridge. But she manages to catch herself and hold on.
For a moment, as I seemed to hang above the rocky ravine below, I knew I wanted to live. I shot out a reflexive hand and found Jerry’s sweaty shirt. I clutched shirt and skin while my legs swung wide and I hovered for a moment in midair. Behind Jerry, the swarm of will-o-wisps glowed and the pack of ghost dogs charged quick and hard at him.
“Save me,” I said before my lower body crashed against the side of the cliff. The force knocked loose my grip of Jerry. Gravity pulled me away, and I began my sudden descent to the rocky ground below.
In a flash, I thought about our lives: Dave’s and Jerry’s and mine. Death had robbed Dave and Jerry of their fathers. The accident had robbed me of the intelligent dad I once had. Although he was alive, he would never be the same. With his suffering, I didn’t want him to be without me. And I didn’t want my two best friends to be without me either. I loved them too much to die.
I reached out for Jerry as a pair of hands lunged at me and caught my extended forearms. Jerry yelled for Dave to help.
Dave? He had come?
Yes. Four sweaty hands grabbed my arms and pulled. They grabbed my armpits and shoulders and pulled harder. They grabbed the back of my blue jeans and pulled harder still. I grabbed at their feet—their shoes and socks, used their legs as lifelines, and hauled myself closer to them until our heaving bodies lay exhausted on the ground, arms and legs entwined, the three of us hugging and kissing and crying, happy that I was alive.
Above us, the growling and barking that had stormed from the briars ceased. The lights twinkled out until only the stars looked down on us.
While we rested, Dave held me in his arms. I kissed him like a lover. The spark in me grew into a flame. It grew in Dave as well; his entire being glowed with a newness in the moonlight. But it wasn’t he who was new.
“I love you,” I said, unafraid to say the words.
I saw the truth in his eyes when he said it back.
I wanted to lay in his arms forever, but Jerry rose and headed back to camp. Dave and I went with him, the three of us hand in hand. At the camp, we looked down at Myers Mansion where the ghosts of Ben Myers and his hounds would never haunt the place again. No screams came from Widow’s Ravine.
We sat around the fire, told no more ghost stories, and watched the sun come up on a brand-new day. I left Myers Ridge that day no longer feeling empty and unsure of myself and my future. And most of all, no longer afraid to say I love you.
I didn’t know much about being a girl, but I figured girls thought about boys as much as boys thought about them. The great mystery surrounding each of us is what we don’t know beyond our selves.
I rewrote the story in favor of my two male protagonists, but I never forgot this story. Over the years, I rewrote it a few times and made the ending a haunting one.
As she began her descent to Myers Creek and its rocky embankment, she thought about death. She would die without ever telling her friends and family how much she loved them. Sadness gripped her soul. Her throat released a wail before she struck the black water of Myers Creek.
On that night, new screams were heard. If you listen hard, you can hear them still.
Then there came the one where she lives … sort of.
A shimmering outstretched hand broke the water’s surface. It bore four black ruby rings, but she saw only the blistering gold of each ring. She reached for the hand with her own shimmering hands.
Outside the water, somewhere along Widow’s Ravine, two frantic boys called her name. She did not hear them as she slipped into the night, hand in hand with the witch who had frozen and killed her cheating husband and pack of hunting dogs, and then thrown herself from Widow’s Ravine.
The story I presented to the world, however, was the one with my two male protagonists and their friend Vree Erickson. It became “Night of the Hellhounds,” a story about Lenny Stevens falling from Myers Ridge and the witch saving him. He doesn’t slip away with her, and the story ends with him wondering who she is.
The answer to the witch’s identity lay in the rewrite from years ago, which had little to do with ghost dogs, hellhounds, or Lenny falling from Myers Ridge. It was the story of Vree moving to Myers Ridge and befriending Lenny who brought with him the troubled baggage of a witch trying to kill him and his family.
The novel, Night of the Hellhounds replaced the short story, and is about Vree destined by the fates to die during the summer when she turns 15. Her life goes from bad to worse after she leaves the lawnmower in the rain and lightning kills her father, burns down her family’s home, and leaves her with psychic powers after striking her.
Vree and her family are forced to move to her maternal grandparents’ home on Myers Ridge, a strange place near Ridgewood, Pennsylvania. There, July fifth marks the annual “Night of the Hellhounds”—a time when a vengeful spirit witch and her hellhounds return to the property next door every year and reign terror there until midnight.
On top of that, Vree, who has developed psychic powers caused by lightning striking her, must deal with Roualens—invisible aliens from another planet who die because of her ability to see them. Uncertain of what to do, she runs away from her dilemma until she realizes she has nowhere to go. Along the way, she meets a pair of ghosts and Enit Huw, a talking white crow. From them, she learns more about Margga, the witch who has kidnapped Vree’s father’s spirit and wants Vree’s psychic energy to escape imprisonment.
Vree returns to her grandparents’ farmhouse and plans to hide indoors until midnight when Margga is no longer a threat. However, Enit Huw and one of the Roualens named Sarlic have other plans for her. Confident she can fix the Roualen spaceship marooned in a cave deep inside Myers Ridge, they convince her to go to the cave and try. But Margga threatens to destroy Vree’s father’s spirit if she doesn’t return to the farmhouse and give up her powers.
Mentally weak and exhausted from trying to fix the ship, Vree injures herself while returning to the farmhouse. Sarlic carries her the rest of the way and confronts Margga, telling her to leave Vree alone. Margga’s response sets in motion her confrontation with Vree as Vree attempts to save her life and destroy the ghost witch who wants her dead.
As I said in my earlier post, the story was Margga’s curse all along, which is why I changed the title.
Since I’m including the cover art and design I did for the different versions, allow me to end this blog post by showing you the original cover for Margga’s Curse, when I considered calling the story Cursed. I rejected the title because it omitted a key player, and I rejected the art because I wanted to keep Vree and the hell-hound as visuals for the reader.