New Ridgewood, 1 [fiction]

Ridgewood continues to change. The same goes for her characters. After all, real-life 2017 is a bizarre, stranger time than 1970 when I began creating the place and her residents. And no matter how fictional they are, they need an essence of reality to make them current and believable.

I have told Vree Erickson’s story before. But no matter, it wants to change with the times. So I stopped wrestling with it over the summer and let it happen—let it write itself.

Here is the beginning of Vree’s story with new life breathed into it.

Vree Erickson yanked the steering wheel of her father’s John Deere riding mower and dodged mowing over her brother’s black leather baseball glove. Surface roots of the old oak tree in her parents’ backyard jostled her while she tried steering away from them. The lawnmower pitched left, right, left again, tossing her like yesterday’s roller coaster ride on Old Shaky, and then… BAM. The deck slammed down on a root. The blade stopped. The motor whined. Vree took her foot from the gas pedal and groaned. She had promised her father that she would be careful mowing the lawn this time.

But this was not her fault. Chase had promised that he had picked up his sports equipment before he, Emma and their mom left to shop at Ridgewood Village Mall an hour ago. Now Vree pondered what to do about the mower. All she knew was how to check and fill the gas tank and oil, and how to start it and turn it off. Driving the thing over the hilly terrain without killing herself was a plus.

“Hello? Vree? Are you there?” Zoey’s voice brought her back.

“Let me call you back,” Vree said to the voice in her pink and black headphones over her ears. She shut off the mower’s engine.

“Are you okay?” Zoey asked. “It sounded like you were in an accident.”

“My stupid brother left his glove in the yard, which caused me to get the lawnmower stuck on some tree roots. My dad’s gonna kill me if I broke anything.”

“Do you need me to come over?” Zoey asked.

Vree sat forward, tugged her red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt from her sweaty back, then wiped her palms on the knees of her blue jeans. “I’m okay,” she answered. A wet breeze blew the ends of her long blonde hair across her face, covering her eyes for a moment. She pushed her hair away and shivered from another breeze. The sunny day had turned gray in an instant.

“You get ready for my birthday party,” she said. “I’ll push the mower into the shed and finish cleaning the kitchen and living room.”

“I’m so excited for you,” Zoey said before she squealed. “You’re a teenager now.”

Vree shrugged. She didn’t feel any different.

“See you at six, birthday girl,” Zoey said before she ended the call.

Vree removed the Bluetooth headphones and put them over the steering wheel. Then she jumped from the tractor, pulled her hair back, twirled it into a bun, and hurried to the rear of the lawnmower. She needed to finish her chores by four o’clock and shower before Mom got home from shopping.

She placed both hands on the back of the seat and rocked the mower, grunting and pushing it until it was away from the roots. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it. Daddy would be disappointed in her for damaging his grandfather’s oak tree—again. Luckily, there was a can of tree wound sealer in the shed left over from last year.

She leapt into her seat and tried starting the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life as it was supposed to do.

If the lawnmower was broken…. She groaned. This was different from staying out past curfew, or cutting her hair uneven with Mom’s good scrapbook scissors, or vomiting corndogs on Daddy at Alice Lake’s rollercoaster ride yesterday.

“Come on,” she begged as she tried the engine again. Things had to start going her way.

Thunder banged from a sky that had grown darker with bruised looking clouds. Her phone’s weather app had told her it would rain today. If only her phone had an app to let her know when she was about to screw up her life.

I could dodge life’s embarrassments and stay out of trouble.

More thunder banged, vibrating its way into her. The sky seemed to open and drop a flood of rain past the umbrella of leafy branches and drenching her. She scampered to the tree trunk and shivered from the chill beneath heavy branches. Thirty yards away, her parents’ spacious Craftsman home beckoned her inside where it was dry and warm. Her orange tabby cat sat at the living room’s middle bay window, watching from behind the rain-streaked glass, and meowing for his three o’clock meal.

Vree looked away. Rain fell on the lawnmower and her good pair of headphones. She darted to the left side of the green and yellow mower and pushed, losing her footing twice on the wet grass after three steps. She hurried to the back of the mower.

After losing her footing again, she looked up. Her father’s black Escalade pulled in the driveway. She groaned. It wasn’t five o’clock. He wasn’t supposed to be home yet.

Charles Erickson hurried from his vehicle, leaving its headlights on, the engine running, and frantic wipers slapping rain from the windshield. He juggled his opened umbrella while he took to the right side of the mower and helped Vree push the tractor across the soggy ground, closer to the shed behind the garage.

A flash of bright white light and tremendous heat engulfed Vree. Something popped in her head. She fell unconscious to the freshly mowed grass, unaware that lightning had struck the oak tree, her, and her father, knocking Charles Maxwell Erickson, Esquire, out of his polished, black leather Florsheim wingtip oxfords.

An hour later, after Karrie Erickson returned home from shopping with Vree’s older brother and sister, the successful private practice lawyer, who had earned as much as six figures last year, lay dead inside the same Ridgewood ambulance that rushed his comatose daughter to the hospital.


To be continued, for sure.

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