Chapter 3: Vree’s Comeback
Not long after I published Night of the Hellhounds, 2.0 and the alternate ending version Night of the Hellhounds, 2.1, I found the original draft in a box of high school papers and notebooks. I knew I wanted to bring Vree Erickson back, so I took to the keyboard and composed a story similar to the original.
Night of the Hellhounds, 3.0: The Amazon Short Story
I’m one of those people who picks at scabs; I can’t leave well-enough alone.
However, it was not an immediate decision to tell again the story of ghost dogs terrorizing some local teenagers on Myers Ridge. I was busy making artwork, working 36 hours a week at the neighborhood Wal-Mart Supercenter, presiding twice a month for almost nine years over a group of local writers, and writing other stories for local publication at book fairs and craft shows.
By 2012, after I semi-retired from making art, stepped down as president of my writers group, and saw my hours at Wal-Mart dwindle because of corporate greed, I found myself with more time to write. I rediscovered the original ghost dogs story and began making changes, though I left in the names of the original characters. It was fun seeing Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson play out again on the pages. It definitely took me back to my teen years and brought back pleasant memories. Not everyone’s childhood is as bad as psychologists would have us believe.
Around the same time I was “playing” with Lenny and the gang, I was reading ebooks via a Kindle reader my wife had gifted me, and some friends said, “Hey, Steve, did you know you can publish your own books through Amazon so other people with Kindles can read them?”
I did not.
I wasn’t new to e-publishing; I had published several books via the PDF platform, so I looked into publishing via Amazon. They hooked me like a hungry bass when they offered me a real honest-to-goodness author page. So, I set about converting my rewritten ghost dogs story into language the Kindle would recognize.
I published “Night of the Hellhounds” January 7, 2013.
The following day, my book received a 5-star review that had this to say: More please! Mr. Campbell has started something with this story that I truly hope he intends to continue for a long time to come and soon I hope. This may be his first time in print but you can still tell how much he cares for the story and its characters by the level of detail he uses. “Night of the Hell Hounds” may be a short story in form but it has the heart of something much larger and I shall be checking often for additions to the story.
More? Continue? Something larger?
When my second 5-star review came in, I decided I could.
This short story acts like the first chapter of a book you do not want to put down. Although you meet several familiar tropes and may even be tempted to shrug off the Rockwellian setting, the book hardens back to the scary stories you loved as a kid. The characters go from telling ghost stories to living one, and just when you think the other is going to “Scooby Doo” his way out of committing to a certain story arch, THAT’S when you want to keep reading and see what else this world has to offer. I, for one, can’t wait for the next installment.
Upon rereading the story, I saw that I had left in the original cliffhanger. No wonder my readers wanted more. So, I scrambled and found an old story called “Trespasser” that I felt would be a fun platform for Vree Erickson to play on. From there, The Ridgewood Chronicles was born.
Since then, I have offered the book for free, though Amazon was hard-pressed about giving it away. So, I reprinted the story on my blog, as part of The Green Crystal Stories. You can read it by clicking here, or continue scrolling.
Without further delay, I present teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson, their encounter with ghosts and demons, and their struggle to survive atop mysterious Myers Ridge.
It was the weekend after Halloween, dark and cold on the night Lenny Stevens parked his Schwinn next to the garage at Dave Evans’s place on Myers Ridge. Dave had told him he would be behind his dad’s barn. Lenny found him there, roasting hot dogs on a stick at a fire that failed to advance any warmth. His tent was set up behind him, and his twin sister Amy had her own tent behind her. She sat cross-legged across the fire from Dave, whispering and giggling with Vree Erickson. Lenny’s heart pattered while his gaze caressed Vree’s long hair looking golden in the firelight. Amy saw him, patted her sleeping bag and told him to sit next to her. He did, sandwiching himself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over their shoulders. He quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.
They wore sweatshirts and blue jeans and jackets to ward off the night’s chill, and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful to Lenny. He said hello to her and she nodded, smiled, and remained silent while Amy controlled the conversation about Mr. Baretti—a tenth grade teacher she didn’t like. When she finished, Lenny opened his mouth to make small talk with Vree. He never got a word out.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Dave said, seeming to awaken from the trance the fire had put him in. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.”
The old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion was to Lenny’s right and at the bottom of a hill. It languished inside a thicket of property almost a hundred yards away and barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover then, so he squinted to see the spooky remnants of the mansion destroyed in June by an unknown arsonist. The police were still investigating the fire and Lenny and his friends had their suspicions of the culprit—he figured it was Craig Coleman and his gang of toadies who liked to smoke and drink there, even though the place was supposed to be haunted.
“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. She gave him her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Always with the ghosts.”
He looked again at the house, excited about this new turn of events. The once prominent house had been built ninety years ago by a once-famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood before he and his wife mysteriously disappeared.
“You saw Myers and his wife’s ghosts?” he asked.
“Apparitions of some dogs,” Dave said; “three of them as plain as day. They vanished right before you came.”
“You saw his dogs? The hunting dogs that froze to death?” Lenny almost dropped his hotdog while he fumbled to pierce it with the stick.
“How did they freeze?” Vree asked. She, who had moved last year to Ridgewood, inched closer to Lenny. He began to tell her when Amy interrupted.
“It’s a dumb story that says the county sheriff found Benjamin Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house on a hot summer day.”
“It isn’t dumb,” Dave said.
“Yes, it is. I checked the town’s newspaper archives that time I did an English paper about Cathleen and Benjamin Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house the day they disappeared.”
“So, how did they disappear?” Vree pressed closer to Lenny when she said this.
“No one knows,” he said as he relished the feel of her body against his; “but it started a half-century of ghost stories.”
“The police concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Myers died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean,” Amy said.
“Which isn’t official,” Dave added. “Myers and his wife always flew using pseudonyms, and no bodies or substantial wreckage were ever found, which means there’s no confirmation that they died at sea.”
Amy sounded irritated when she groaned. “It makes more sense than believing that he and his dogs froze to death, or that Cathleen jumped to her death at the bottom of Widow’s Ravine.”
Lenny glanced at where a trickling stream separated the two properties. A half-mile away to his left, the stream fell into a steep-sided gorge called Widow’s Ravine, a place that the rest of the legend claims Cathleen Myers jumped to her death after she found her husband and his dogs frozen. He told Vree about the legend and added, “Her screams can be heard whenever her ghost relives the suicide and plunges into the ravine.”
“For the record, none of us have ever heard anyone screaming from Widow’s Ravine,” Amy said. “And I’ve never seen any ghosts.”
“Well, I have,” Dave said.
“Whatever.” Amy popped a peppermint Life Saver candy into her mouth and offered Vree and Lenny some.
“And I’m not the only one,” Dave said before swallowing the last of his hotdog. “Our cousin Ricky says Alan Baker was driving up here one night after the fire when he saw a pack of wild-looking dogs on the Myers property. When he aimed a flashlight at them, they vanished. Then, as he was driving away, he felt the weight of invisible animals jumping on the hood of his truck. He hurried home and discovered that something had scratched the truck’s paint and dented the hood.”
Amy shook her head and said, “I wouldn’t believe anything Alan Baker says.”
“I’m just saying what Ricky told me, is all.”
They quieted and Lenny cooked his hotdog and ate it without a bun or any dressing, just the way he liked them, and snuck glances at quiet Vree cloud gazing. He looked up once or twice and wondered what she saw there.
A stick snapped behind Amy’s tent and caused him turn partway to the left. The dark shape of a human figure stepped around the tent and into their midst.
* * *
“Who are you?” Dave said, almost shouting, which drew Vree’s and Amy’s attention. “This is private land.”
Fiery hues of the campfire revealed 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. Tall and curvy, she looked at the four teenagers with mesmerizing and penetrating eyes—blacker than either her hair or dress, or the rubies set in the gold rings that she wore on eight fingers and two thumbs.
“This parcel of land is owned by Margaret Evans,” she replied as she strolled to stand next to the fire between Dave and the rest of them.
“She’s our grandmother,” Dave said. “Our dad lives here now.”
“Yes, I know of your family, David,” she said to him. “And Amy.” She smiled and looked kindly at Amy, beaming those mysterious charcoal eyes. Then she looked at Lenny and lingered with a puzzled, yet bewitching gaze.
He held her gaze until Dave asked, “How can we help you?”
She looked away and said, “I must rest a moment. The journey here has tired me.”
She sat with a grace that made her seem to glide to the grass. There, she tucked her legs delicately beside herself and covered her bare feet beneath her dress. Her gaze shifted back to Lenny, then to Vree, and then to him again.
“I don’t know you two,” she said.
“I’m Lenny Stevens,” Lenny said. “This is Vree.”
“My full name is Verawenda Erickson,” Vree said. “Well, actually, Verawenda Renee Erickson. My friends started calling me Vree because of my initials.”
“I am Ademia Consuela Ramona Cathleen Savakis,” the woman said to her. “I have been called all of these names and more. But you can call me Ademia.” Her eyes narrowed and the corners of her mouth lifted for a moment as she smiled at Vree. Then she asked, “Do you and your family live on the ridge, too?”
“Yes. My parents and I moved just down the road almost sixteen months ago … from Pittsburgh.”
“My parents and I live in town,” Lenny said. “My dad—”
Ademia’s stern gaze caused him to close his mouth with a clack of teeth striking together. He saw a flicker of sadness cross her face before she turned and looked at Dave. “And why do you mistake me for—” she leaned closer “—a gypsy … no … a witch?”
Dave stiffened and said, “I don’t.”
“I suppose I do look like a gypsy. My mother was Brazilian, my father Greek. But I’m neither gypsy nor witch, although—”
She paused and looked thoughtful. Then she glanced in the direction of the burnt remains of the old mansion and said rather sadly, “I must go now.”
She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat.
“Good night,” she said before turning and heading toward the Myers property.
The four watched her until the night made her invisible. Then Amy said, “Did you guys notice that she had no shoes on her feet?”
“And on a cold night like tonight,” Vree said. She shivered and tightened the blanket around her. “It feels like it might snow.”
Dave stood and said, “Lenny, throw some more wood on the fire. I have to see a man about a horse.”
“Cute,” Amy said. “Water some weeds for me while you’re at it.”
Lenny sighed that the woodpile was at the far side of the barn and that he had to leave Vree’s side. Icy air latched onto him and left him shivering when he stepped from beneath the blanket and away from the fire.
He had taken eight steps toward the barn when Dave came quickly to him and pointed down at the Myers property.
“Look,” he said with a voice that was barely audible. Then it rose as he said, “Don’t you see it? It’s Ben Myers’s ghost!”
Lenny turned in time to see the glowing apparition of a man in a white shirt and dark pants walk through the Myers house’s burnt remains. Then the ghostly image wavered and disappeared.
“Tell me you saw that,” Dave said.
“Saw what?” Amy asked as she and Vree huddled beneath the blanket and peered out at them.
“Ben Myers’s ghost,” Dave said. “It was just there. Just like the dogs I saw earlier.”
As if cued by Dave’s words, Lenny heard dogs bark from the ruined house. He said, “When Myers’s dogs died, their spirits came back as hellhounds to guard the house from trespassers.”
“Another dumb tall tale,” Amy said to Vree.
“Dumb or not,” Lenny said, “I hear them barking.”
“I do, too,” Dave said.
“You do?” It was Vree who spoke. She flung away her end of the blanket, stood, and peered down the hillside. “Where are they? I want to see.”
A pack of nine dogs charged from the ruins and lined at the bottom of the hill, all of them glowing an aura of green light. Lenny went to Vree and stood at her side as the dogs looked up at them, snarling and baring teeth.
“I don’t see anything,” Vree said to Lenny.
“Because nothing’s there,” Amy said. She had stood and now peered down the hill, too.
But Lenny saw the dogs as clear as though they stood beneath a noon sun. There were white hounds with black and brown patches, some rough-coated terriers, and a brown Rottweiler that stood in the middle and slobbered white foam from its mouth.
“I see them,” Dave said as he joined his friends. “And they don’t look happy to see us.”
The Rottweiler growled low and guttural. And the red ember of fire in its eyes caused Dave to step backward.
“Let’s go inside the house,” he said. Then he said it again, louder, as the other dogs joined in. As the growls rose in both pitch and volume, Lenny agreed with Dave’s suggestion. He tugged at one of Vree’s arms and told her and Amy to follow Dave who had turned and now hurried past the barn, toward the house.
“But I don’t see or hear anything,” Vree said.
“Because there’s nothing’s down there.” Amy wrapped her blanket around Vree’s shoulders and said to Lenny, “We’re staying here and camping out tonight, even if it snows.”
The growls stopped.
Lenny looked down the hill and saw that three of the seven dogs had vanished, which included the Rottweiler.
“It isn’t snow I’d worry about,” he said, seconds before vicious barking came from the driveway.
* * *
“They’re after me,” Dave yelled as he ran from around the side of the barn and headed toward them. “Get in the tents. Hurry.”
In a puff of red smoke, the Rottweiler appeared in front of Dave, blocking the way.
Dave skidded to a stop and stared wildly at the dog. Then he bolted to his right and vanished into the field and darkness there.
Two hounds glowing green raced into view from around the side of the barn and charged after him.
The Rottweiler followed, almost flying across the ground as it too vanished in the dark.
“They’re heading toward Widow’s Ravine,” Lenny said. “We have to help—”
Just then, horrible howls from below the hill filled the air. Amy and Vree screamed as they stared down the hillside. The remaining dogs charged the hill.
“They’re real,” Amy said before she tore past Lenny, the blanket dropping to the ground. Vree followed, close at her heels.
Lenny looked once more at the hellish ghost dogs coming at him before he raced after the girls heading to Mr. Evans’s house, which was lit up inside and looked so safe and inviting.
“But what about Dave?” he called out.
The girls kept running, but he stopped. His best friend was being chased to a dangerous place with sinkholes and cliffs. He turned and hurried after Dave as the remaining hellhounds crested the hill and raced after him.
He plowed blindly into brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed him, scratched his face and hands, and scarred his clothes and shoes.
The hellhounds closed their distance quickly. His drumming heart climbed into his throat when he realized he couldn’t outrun them. Still, he shielded his face with his arms as he pushed on.
The dangerous terrain looked foreign in the low-lit night, yet he followed the sound of the hellhounds ahead of him and thought only of Dave’s safety.
His inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans when moonlight broke through the clouds and he burst through the confining brambles at a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge.
Dave was there, at the edge but safe for the moment, doubled over and breathing hard. The hellhounds that had followed him had their heads lowered and their rear ends in the air like wolves that had just pinned their prey.
Lenny hurried and kicked at the Rottweiler’s backside, hoping to punt it over the cliff. Instead, his foot went through the apparition and he landed on his backside.
Quick to get up, he hurried to Dave’s side as the rest of the pack caught up and formed a line, boxing him and Dave at the edge of the cliff. The hellhounds glared with red eyes and growled with slobbering mouths. One of the hellhounds howled and Lenny lashed out at it, this time with words.
“Leave us alone.”
The Rottweiler growled and leaped at him. Its forepaws struck his chest and sent him stumbling backwards, his arms flailing. For a moment, it seemed that he had stabled his balance. Then the evil apparition barked sharply at him from where it had landed. Lenny flinched, lost his footing, and stumbled over the precipice of Widows Ravine.
He plummeted on his back one hundred feet through icy air to the icier waters of Myers Creek. When he entered the T of the tributary and creek, his aching throat released a yelp of surprise as the water enveloped him like a brutal winter blast.
He remembered then that he did not know how to swim.
He sank quickly into darkness until his backside struck the rocky creek bottom. He rested there a moment, dazed. Then he pushed off and struggled toward a sliver of moonlight barely rippling on the water’s surface far above him. His arms and legs felt encumbered by his heavy clothes. Worse, his lungs ached to release the little breath he held. He fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe deeply; he was only halfway to the surface when he knew that he could hold his breath no longer. He was going to drown.
He looked at the rippling moonlight and wished to see Vree one more time.
Just then, shimmering outstretched hands broke through the water’s surface and came for him. The nearest hand bore five black ruby rings, blistering from the gold of each ring. That hand grabbed the front of his jacket and pulled him from the depths of Myers Creek.
His lungs sucked in air and bits of water. He coughed and sputtered fitfully while Ademia managed to get him to shore. There, lying on his stomach, he vomited creek water and bits of chewed hotdog on the bank of Myers Creek until he caught his breath.
“Your friend David is safe,” Ademia said, helping him to stand. “I stopped the dogs from attacking. But I was too late to keep you from falling.”
Still weak and exhausted, he fell to the ground.
“Who are you?” he asked, looking up at her. He shivered wet and cold at her bare feet, and looked at her, puzzled. She was as dry as when she had sat at the fire earlier.
“I am someone you beckoned,” she said. “Now I ask the same of you, young man. Who are you?”
He paused and wondered what she meant. And while he wondered, he suddenly knew.
“You’re Cathleen Myers,” he said. He forced the words through a clenched mouth that trembled from the cold that burned at his bones. “And it’s true. Your husband … and his dogs … froze to death.”
She was quiet while she studied him with darkened eyes below a troubled scowl.
Finally, “I am the scorned wife who called forth an ancient, evil power from Myers Ridge,” she said. “A power that froze to death my unfaithful husband and cruelly cast me to my grave.”
At that moment, they heard Dave crying out Lenny’s name from atop the ridge. Lenny trembled too much to holler back. Ademia placed her hands atop his head and filled his body with warmth.
“Answer your friend,” she said; “you’re safe now.”
“Thank you,” he said to her. Then he called out and told Dave that he was okay. Dave told him to go to the bridge on Russell Road and to wait.
“I owe you my life,” he said to Ademia. The rubies of her rings began to glow, turning from dark to bright white light. She held her hands to her face.
“I am forgiven,” she said before the light from her rings engulfed her and she vanished.
Lenny stumbled upright. Ice water fell from his clothes but he was not cold. As he headed toward Russell Road, he wondered about his rescuer Ademia, the ancient power she had called from Myers Ridge, and whether he would see her again.
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