Changes, Part 4
Verawenda “Vree” Renee Erickson, 13
Upon her creation in the 1970s, Verawenda Erickson was the same age as my other teen characters. She was an only child, nicknamed Vree, and lived with her parents down the road from Dave and Amy. Years later, when I decided to write about Vree again, I made Dave and Amy her triplet siblings and had them move into their grandparents’ home after lightning killed their father. It was fun giving her a pair of siblings to act with and react to, but I didn’t like that they were the same age. So, after revisiting my manuscripts last year, I changed her age to 13 and made her the youngest sibling of a 17-year-old brother and a 15-year-old sister. As the youngest member of the group of teens on Myers Ridge, she is more like an outsider who wants to be part of the older group.
She is Dave and Amy’s cousin—their mothers are sisters. Her nickname Vree comes from her initials VRE. Her first name is a combination of Vera and Wenda—her mom’s paternal grandmother was Vera Lewis and maternal grandmother was Wenda Walsh. Her middle name Renee is her maternal grandmother’s middle name.
Night of the Hellhounds (A short story featuring Vree)
*** One of my better known stories, changed to feature Vree as a main character. ***
Vree Erickson needed to get out of the house.
It was unseasonably cool that July Friday night when she walked up the road from her house on Myers Ridge. She stopped at her Aunt Michelle and Uncle Parker’s wide driveway. Her cousin Dave had told her that he and Amy would be at their tents behind the house. She aimed her flashlight at the front lawn and followed the beam to the narrow strip of yard left of the house. A breeze blew past her ponytail and prickled the back of her neck. She shivered and steadied herself with her right hand against the house’s brick siding as she made her way past the three dark dining room windows, then finally past her aunt’s soft-lit kitchen window. Her aunt and uncle were likely in the family room at the back of the house, watching TV.
Something moved in the evergreen shrubbery on her left. The sound quickened her pace to the firelight in the backyard. She came to a circle of seven lawn chairs around a square fire pit. Dave sat in a chair in front of his dome tent and cooked two hot dogs speared to a long roasting fork. His twin sister Amy had her own tent behind her. She sat cross-legged in a chair across the fire from Dave, whispering and giggling with Kenny Douglas next to her. Vree’s heart pattered while her gaze caressed Kenny’s brown bushy hair looking golden in the firelight. She tucked her flashlight under an armpit, rolled up her sweatshirt sleeves, and warmed her hands over the fire.
“Hey,” Dave said. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.” He pointed with his fork.
A thicket of property almost a hundred yards away was to Vree’s right and at the bottom of a hill. No moonlight broke the cloud cover then, so she squinted to see the abandoned Victorian home inside a thicket of trees.
“I just saw some ghosts,” Dave said. “Dogs. Three of them as plain as day. They were there until a moment ago.”
Amy groaned. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” She looked at Kenny. “Tell him there’s no such thing.”
“Never mind,” Dave said. Then, “Why shouldn’t I believe in ghosts?” he asked. “All our ancient civilizations had them in their art and writing. Just like dragons and vampires and other strange creatures. Each culture portrayed them, including the Aztecs. How could so many different cultures have the same beliefs?”
“Don’t tell me you believe that dumb urban legend about Ben Myers and his hunting dogs freezing to death inside the house,” Amy said.
“On a hot summer day?” Amy patted the arm of a chair next to her and told Vree to sit. Vree did, putting her flashlight on the ground and smelling hot dogs, wood smoke, and Amy’s citrus perfume. But her attention was on Kenny’s blue and gold athlete’s jacket that made him look more like a senior high student than a boy heading to tenth grade next month. Not many junior varsity students earned jackets at Ridgewood High. And Kenny’s made him look all the more handsome.
He smiled and nodded at Vree but remained silent while Amy scolded Dave.
“After they disappeared, the police concluded that Ben and Kate Myers died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean.”
“Which isn’t official,” Dave said. “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 groaned again. “It makes more sense than believing that he and his dogs froze to death, or that Kate jumped to her death at the bottom of Widow’s Ravine.”
Vree looked again at the old, long ago abandoned property. The house did have a spooky history, after all, though no one she knew claimed to have seen anything out of the ordinary there. Until now.
But every community had an old house that people said was haunted. This was theirs.
The large Victorian house had belonged to 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 seventy years ago.
Vree glanced at where a trickling stream separated the back portion of the two properties and ran a half-mile behind them to the cliffs of Myers Ridge. There, the stream fell into a steep-sided gorge called Widow’s Ravine, where, according to the legend, Kate Myers jumped to her death after she found her husband and his dogs frozen.
A stick snapped behind Amy’s tent and caused Vree to turn. A tall woman stepped around the tent and approached the fire, which glinted fiery hues from her long black hair, bronze face, and 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 breasts. 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.
“Who are you?” Dave asked, almost shouting. Lowering his voice, he added, “This is private property.”
“This parcel of land is owned by Margaret Myers,” the woman replied as she held her hands over the fire.
“That’s my great-grandmother,” Kenny said. “But she doesn’t own this property anymore. My friends’ parents do.”
The woman looked at him and lingered with a puzzled, yet bewitching gaze. “You wear Mergelda’s curse,” she said.
“Huh?” Kenny scowled at Dave.
“What are you talking about, lady?” Dave asked. “Who’s Mergelda?”
“Mergelda Dekownik,” the woman said to him. Then, “May I rest a moment?” she asked. “The journey here has tired me.”
Dave gestured an open palm to the chair in front of her. She pulled the chair away and sat on the ground 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 Kenny, then to Vree, and then to Dave.
“I am Kaethe Ramona Ademia Consuela Savakis,” she said. “But you can call me Ademia. That’s what my papa called me.” She looked back at Kenny. Then her charcoal eyes narrowed and the corners of her mouth lifted for a moment as she smiled at Vree. “You are the prevision I saw in my dreams,” she said. “You must be with him when the curse begins to effloresce. Stay with him and protect him always.”
Vree frowned and drew her knees under her chin. She hugged her legs and asked, “Are you talking to me?”
“I am.” Ademia 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 mama was Brazilian, my papa Greek. But I’m neither gypsy nor witch, although—”
She paused and looked thoughtful. Then she glanced in the direction of the old mansion and said rather sadly, “I must go now.”
She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat.
“Heed the white bird,” she said to Vree before turning and heading toward the Myers property.
The four watched her stroll down the hill and past the old Myers property until the night made her invisible. Then Dave stood and jabbed the air with a finger. “That was her. That was Kate Myers.”
Amy groaned. “The woman may have been crazy, but she was no ghost.”
“Do the math,” Dave said, sitting. “Kate Myers. Kaethe Ramona Ademia blah-blah-blah Savakis. She said her father was Greek. Ben Myers married a Greek woman. It all adds up.”
“That was no ghost,” Amy said.
“I agree,” Kenny said. “She looked pretty solid to me.” He stood and held up his illuminated cellphone. “Sorry, guys. I gotta head home.” He said goodbye and mounted his blue bicycle that lay behind his chair. A headlight came on as he pedaled to the side of the house, opposite of where Vree had come.
Amy stood and said she was making popcorn. Vree checked her phone. It was 11:52. “Dave and Amy say hi,” she texted to her mom. “Be home soon.” She grimaced from the cold when she put her phone back in the front of her bra.
“So, what do you think that woman meant when she said to heed the white bird?” she asked. “And that bit about ‘be with him when the curse begins’ and to ‘protect him always.’ What the heck?”
Dave pointed his roasting fork at the old Myers property and said, “Look.” His voice rose as he said, “See it? It’s a ghost. And I’ll bet you it’s Ben Myers’s ghost.”
Vree squinted. A faint glowing apparition of a man in a white shirt and dark pants walked outside the thicket at the Myers property. It wavered and disappeared.
“Tell me you saw that,” Dave said. “He was there. Just like the dogs I saw earlier.” As if cued by his words, dogs barked from the house. “Legend says that when Myers’s dogs died, their spirits came back as hellhounds to guard the house from trespassers.”
A pack of dogs charged from the darkness and lined at the bottom of the hill. All but one glowed with an aura of green light. The dogs snarled and bared their teeth at them. And their eyes glowed red.
Vree hurried to stand behind Dave’s chair. There were five white hounds with black and brown patches on the left, four rough-coated terriers on the right, and a brown Rottweiler that stood in the middle and slobbered white foam from its mouth. It glowed red and growled deep and guttural. And the red ember of fire in its eyes caused Vree to pull at Dave.
“Let’s go inside the house,” she said. Then she said it again, louder, as the other dogs joined in growling at them. As the growls rose in both pitch and volume, Dave agreed with Vree’s suggestion. He tugged Vree’s grasp away from his left forearm and took her by the hand. Vree started to follow him when three of the dogs vanished, including the Rottweiler.
Horrible howls from below the hill filled the air. The remaining dogs charged the hillside, coming at them.
“Run,” Dave said.
Vree followed at his heels as they raced toward the house.
In a puff of green smoke, a hound appeared in front of them, blocking the way.
Dave skidded to a stop and stared wildly at the green glowing dog. Then he bolted to his left and vanished into the field and darkness there. The hound chased after him, joined by a terrier that appeared at the hound’s side.
In a puff of red smoke, the Rottweiler appeared in front of Vree.
She turned her back and pleaded with the dog not to hurt her.
“Look at me,” the Rottweiler said, its voice deep and guttural.
Vree did, avoiding staring at its demonic eyes.
“You see Blood. You hear Blood.”
Vree trembled and said, “Please, don’t hurt me.”
The dog said nothing for a moment. Then it turned, almost flying across the ground as it too vanished in the dark after Dave.
Vree jumped and almost screamed when an unfamiliar voice cried out above her, “They’re heading toward Widow’s Ravine. You have to help him before they kill him.”
A white crow sat atop the roof above the backdoor. Had it really talked to her? She almost fell to her knees from the fright coursing through her body.
“Go, girl. Hurry.”
“But—” The remaining dogs milled around the campfire and watched her. She had left her flashlight on the ground by her chair. “I can’t see in the dark.”
“Hurry,” the crow said. “You’re not insane. Trust me. Now go, before the boy dies.” The crow spread its wings and vanished.
Vree shook her hands as though she had burned her fingers on something hot, looked at the door, and then hurried after Dave as the remaining dogs—ghosts—hellhounds—whatever they were—started after her.
She plowed blindly into brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed her, scratched her hands, and scarred her clothes and shoes.
The hellhounds closed their distance behind her quickly. Her drumming heart climbed into her throat when she realized she could not outrun them for long. Still, she pushed on for Dave’s sake. Her inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans.
She stumbled and almost fell before the way lit up, as though the moonlight had broken through the clouds. Although she was on a well-traveled deer trail, she had to dodge uneven and dangerous terrain as she followed the sound of the Rottweiler ahead of her.
She cried Dave’s name when she entered a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge. He 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.
Vree hurried and kicked at the Rottweiler’s backside, hoping to punt it over the cliff. Instead, her foot went through the dog and she landed on her backside.
Quick to get up, she hurried to Dave’s side as the rest of the pack caught up and formed a line, boxing her 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 Vree lashed out at it, this time with words.
“Leave us alone, you lousy piece of—”
The Rottweiler growled and leaped at her. Its forepaws struck her chest and sent her backwards, her arms flailing, her feet stumbling over the steep precipice of Widows Ravine.
She plummeted on her back one hundred feet through cold air to the colder waters of Myers Creek. When she entered the T of the tributary and creek, her aching throat released a yelp of surprise as the water enveloped her like an icy blast.
She sank into darkness until her backside struck the rocky creek bottom. She rested there a moment, dazed, unable to move. A thousand drums beat inside her skull and made thinking almost impossible. Then by instinct, she pushed off and struggled toward a sliver of moonlight barely rippling on the water’s surface far above her. Her lungs ached to release the little breath she held. She fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe.
She was halfway to the surface when she knew she could hold her breath no longer.
Shimmering outstretched hands broke through the water’s surface and came for her. The nearest hand bore five black ruby rings, blistering from the gold of each ring. It grabbed the front of her sweatshirt and pulled her from the depths of Myers Creek.
Her lungs sucked in air and bits of water. She coughed and sputtered while her rescuer managed to pull her to shore. There, lying on her stomach, she vomited creek water on the bank of Myers Creek until she caught her breath.
“Your friend David is safe,” Ademia said, helping her to stand.
“He’s … my … cousin.”
“All the same, I stopped the dogs from attacking him. But I was too late to keep you from falling.”
Still weak and exhausted, Vree fell to her knees.
“Who are you?” She shivered wet and cold at Ademia’s bare feet, and looked at her, puzzled. The woman was as dry as when she had sat at the fire earlier.
“I am someone cursed,” she said. “Now I ask the same of you, young lady. Who are you?”
Vree paused and wondered what she meant. And while she wondered, she said, “Dave says … you’re Kate Myers.” She forced the words through a clenched mouth that trembled from the cold that burned at her bones. “He’s right. You’re a ghost.”
“Call me Ademia.”
“And … it’s true. Your husband … and his dogs … froze to death.”
Ademia was quiet while she studied Vree with darkened eyes below a troubled scowl.
Finally, “I am what’s left of Mergelda’s wrath. My husband suffered a hunting accident that killed her father. It was she who called forth an ancient, evil power from Myers Ridge. A power that froze to death my husband and cruelly cast me to my grave among these waters. A power that devastated most magic from these lands. A power that curses us still.”
Dave cried out Vree’s name from atop the ridge. Vree trembled too much to holler back. Ademia placed her hands atop Vree’s head and filled her mind and body with warmth.
“Answer your friend and cousin,” she said; “you’re safe now.”
“Thank you,” Vree said to her. Then she called out and told Dave that she was okay. Dave told her to go to the bridge on Russell Road and to wait for him.
“I owe you my life,” she said to Ademia.
The rubies of Ademia’s rings glowed, turning from dark to bright white light. She held her hands to her face.
“I am with you always,” she said, touching Vree’s forehead before the light from her rings engulfed her and she vanished.
The light engulfed Vree but didn’t blind her. She stumbled upright. Ice water fell from her clothes but she was not cold. She examined her waterlogged phone and hoped the white rice at home could bring it back to life. The phone powered on with a text from her mom: Be home soon. Your dad and I are ready for bed.
As she headed toward Russell Road, the light around her faded but didn’t vanish. Her clothes were dry. So was her hair.
“I am with you always,” Ademia had said. Vree wondered about her rescuer and the ancient power Mergelda had called from Myers Ridge—“A power that curses us still.”
When Vree reached the road, the light vanished. The way home lay in darkness but she knew the way. And she knew the way led her on a journey to something important in her life. Something life changing and dangerous.
She swallowed, took a deep breath, and started up the hill.