Merging Similar Characters [character development]

Changes, Part 6

During a break from writing, I continue discussing the changes I have made to my Ridgewood characters.

Sometimes it is necessary for authors to reduce the number of characters entering and exiting their story’s scenes. This is a good time to look for characters with similar personalities.

If two characters have similar personalities, and if they serve the same function in a story, merging them into one character often gives me a richer character. By merging characters, I do not mean throwing all their traits into one stew. Otherwise, the result will be a blurry character.

Dave and Kenny

Dave began as my first and major protagonist. My stories were about him and his growth. Then Kenny came who became Lenny; he and Dave shared similar stories, personalities, and looks. They are interchangeable characters. Look at their personalities.

  • Dave lives a fast-paced lifestyle of extracurricular activities during the school seasons. He is sports active, outdoorsy and loves to hunt. He likes playing baseball, bicycling, and riding motorcycles and 4-wheelers. He is mechanically inclined and is handy at fixing small engines. Since he is the only boy in the family, he seeks out other boys with similar interests.
  • Kenny is a combination of athletic and rugged, curious and adventurous, and thoughtful and artistic. His favorite activity is fishing. He, too, is the only boy in the family.
Dave and Lenny/Kenny

Dave and Kenny are from similar molds. They are the same age, in the same grade at the same school, and both believe in the supernatural. They rarely disagree on anything.

They may as well be identical twins.

Boring.

So, I combined them into one character, found a name for him that suited him well, and set about giving him a purpose for future stories.

Amy and Trina

Amy became a main character in my stories when I challenged myself to write from a girl’s perspective. She and Trina were as easily interchangeable as Dave and Kenny were.

Amy

Vree’s older sister, Trina Erickson, was a minor character for many years. When she was on stage in my stories, she had interests similar to Amy’s and was a member of Amy’s all-girl rock group ARC. Like Amy, she played guitar and keyboards, so I combined the two characters and made her Amy Erickson, Vree’s musically inclined sister for my 2012 novel Night of the Hellhounds, which I retitled Margga’s Curse in 2014 and Mergelda’s Curse in 2015.

Julie [fiction]

Changes, Part 5

Today is my birthday. I find it fitting to feature a character I created on my birthday many years ago when I was a teenager.

Julianna “Julie” Michelle Douglas, 13

Julie

In the beginning, I named her Lucinda after an older sister I almost had. She was big sister to Kenny (named Lenny back then) and was a schoolteacher. Years later, I renamed her Susan and moved her to Pittsburgh. She remained a teacher.

She became the younger sister in 1999 when I started a work-in-progress with the working title Let There Be Dragons. I spent three years writing Let There Be Dragons until I shelved it in favor of another story called Kismet. The short story below is a reworked chapter of Let There Be Dragons. Faithful followers of my blog will recognize it as The Pink Fairy WIP featured here, beginning October 20, 2012 and running for five chapters.

Julie went through several name changes over the years before I chose Julianna as a keeper last year.

*

Green Fairy (A work-in-progress chapter featuring Julie)

A splash came from Alice Lake. Julie Douglas sat up on her beach towel, lifted her binoculars from her satchel bag, and scanned the lake. Her tanned, bare-chested brother Kenny fell to his oars to control the rocking red rowboat. Someone had jumped overboard and now swam toward her. Once the rocking stopped, Kenny started the outboard engine and followed the swimmer. Amy Conrad stood and hurried out of the water and onto the beach, then waited next to Julie while Kenny anchored the boat in the shallow water.

“Doesn’t he look sexy in those blue swim trunks I bought him for his birthday?” Amy asked.

“Ew.” Julie made a face.

“Hey, sis,” Kenny said with a grin as he approached. He was barefoot, like Amy. “Have you been spying on Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s nephew again?” He pointed at the black binoculars hanging from a black leather strap around Julie’s neck.

Julie sighed and removed the field glasses. “Ha ha, very funny.” She grabbed a tube of suntan lotion from her bag and squeezed some on her reddened forearms. Unlike her older brother, she had to suffer through several sunburns before her skin tanned.

“Isn’t that him spying on you from his bedroom?”

“What?” Julie twisted to look at Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s red and white two-story cottage next door.

“Relax. He’s with the Jacksons in New Cambridge for the weekend.” Kenny chuckled. “He’ll be disappointed he missed seeing you half naked in that hot pink boy-tease micro mini dress.”

“I’m not half naked. And this isn’t a micro mini dress, moron. It’s my new strapless sundress.”

Kenny held his palms out. “Okay. Jeez. Sorry.”

“I think it’s adorable,” Amy said, sitting on the foot end of Julie’s towel. Water dripped from her golden hair and red, one-piece swimsuit. She was careful not to drip any water on Julie’s sketchpad of various bird drawings. She lifted the binoculars to her eyes and scanned the lake. “Seen anything interesting?”

Julie flipped her long dark hair from her shoulders and rubbed lotion on her upper arms. “Mostly robins and chickadees. Some cardinals and blue jays. Nothing exciting.”

“My favorite bird’s the Steller’s Jay,” Kenny said. He removed a yellow T-shirt draped over his right shoulder, put it on, and ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair. “Seen any around?”

“Ha ha, very droll, big brother.” Then Julie added under her breath, “Dork.”

Kenny’s grin widened. “So I like the Steller’s Jay,” he said. “Sue me.”

“And I like penguins. But anyone with a brain knows they’re not native to Pennsylvania.”

“It’s not my fault they don’t live in Pennsylvania.”

“You two remind me of Dave and me on those boring family vacations we get dragged on every August,” Amy said. She placed the binoculars next to Julie’s sketchbook. “We’re going to Yellowstone next month.” She pretended to stick a finger down her throat and regurgitate.

“I love Yellowstone,” Julie said. “All the wildlife and geysers and Lewis and Clark Caverns. Awesome.”

Amy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Yeah. Awesome.”

A green birdlike creature zipped from the sky and circled Kenny’s head. He swatted at it as if it was a bee trying to sting him. Julie laughed when he stumbled and fell on his backside before it flew away.

“Was that a hummingbird?” he asked, peering at the sky.

“I don’t think that was a bird,” Julie said.

“What?” Amy asked. “Why not?”

“Um … well…”

Amy frowned. Then, “Of course it was a hummingbird,” she said and laughed. “What else could it be?”

“A fairy,” Julie said. “She dropped this.” She plucked a twig from the sand. “I think it’s her wand.”

“Whoa.” Kenny sat forward to get a closer look.

“She was very beautiful, with a girlish humanoid body all covered in green hair from head to toe,” Julie said.

Kenny nodded. “Makes sense. It seems silly to think they live outdoors and are bare skinned like us. I never bought into the idea that they make tiny fairy dresses on tiny looms and sewing machines to keep warm and dry.”

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Amy said. “Are you two serious?”

“Well, what did you see?” Julie asked.

“But fairies aren’t real.”

“But you saw one.”

“But…”

“It’s okay. I never believed in fairies either, even after seeing my third one up close,” Julie said. “But they’re real.”

“Wait. Time out.” Amy looked up at Kenny who still studied the sky. “It was a trick of the light. Fairies are not real.”

“It’s cool,” Kenny said. He scooted across the sand until he sat next to Amy and faced her. “And nothing to be afraid of.”

“I didn’t say I was afraid. I said they’re not real.”

Kenny shrugged. “Some people believe fairies are real and some people don’t. Some people believe all fairies are female. Some say leprechauns are real but trolls aren’t. And some people believe in vampires but not werewolves. It’s how things are until we see them with our own eyes.”

“This is nuts,” Amy said. She closed her eyes and sighed.

Julie pointed at the elm and maple trees separating her parents’ cabin property from Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s property. “There are probably more of them, all of them living in the trees, blending with the leaves so we can’t see them. I’ve read that they only appear at dawn and twilight, but I think we’ve proved that theory wrong.”

Amy snorted. “Yeah, well, I think I’m gonna go to the amusement park where the sane people are,” she announced. She hurried to stand up but her feet shifted in the sand and she fell back to her spot on Julie’s towel. Kenny caught her by the upper arm and kept her from falling against him.

She pulled from his grasp. “Ouch. You scratched me.” She pushed him away and inspected her arm.

While Kenny peered at Amy’s scratch, Julie said, “I wonder why the fairy buzzed your head, Kenny. They don’t usually show themselves to humans unless they have something to say.”

“She did make a noise that could have been her talking to me.” Kenny looked up and shrugged. “It sounded like she said yellow stone, but I couldn’t make it out too well.”

“We were talking about Amy going to Yellowstone,” Julie said, excited. “Yellowstone. Say it. Yellowstone.”

“Why?”

“Just say it. I wanna see if she returns.”

“Yellowstone,” Kenny said, looking at the sky.

The fairy flew from a maple tree next to Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s cabin and circled Kenny’s head. He kept still and closed his eyes.

“What is she saying to you?” Julie asked a moment later when the fairy circled Kenny’s head faster and became a green streak.

“Yellow,” Kenny said. Then, “No … not yellow. Arrow. Arrow stone.”

“This … is too freaky,” Amy said. She licked her lips, then stood and stumbled when she backed away from Kenny and the fairy. “I-I … I need to get out of here.” She turned, took a step, then yelped when her feet left the ground and her body lifted a foot into the air.

“Don’t move,” Kenny called out. “Nobody do or say anything

“Let me down,” Amy cried out. She kicked her legs. “Let me down right now.”

Julie jumped to her feet and hurried to Amy’s left side. “Don’t be afraid,” she said, encircling her arms around Amy’s upper legs. “And stop kicking.” She pulled Amy down.

As soon as Amy’s feet touched ground, she fell forward and took Julie with her. The girls landed on a damp, hardwood floor. Julie rolled to her back, sat up and picked up the twig she was certain was a fairy wand.

The large, rectangular room was dingy and musty smelling in the dim light that entered three broken windows and a missing slat along the wall closest to Julie. A red squirrel scampered across the floor and disappeared through the missing slat. Rodents squealed and scurried in the ceiling where a labyrinth of cobwebs festooned from it. Thick dust covered the floor, and Julie’s bare feet stirred it into the light as she went to the nearest window and looked out at a jungle of trees.

“Is this someone’s house in the middle of the woods?” she asked.

“We’re in Myers Mansion.” Amy stood and shivered.

“You mean the creepy place next to your house?” Julie turned and grinned at Amy. “Awesome.”

Amy started toward Julie, then stopped and threw her arms in the air. “Something weird just happened to us and you think it’s awesome. How is this awesome, Julie? Explain it to me.”

“We just teleported. How many people do you know can say that?” Julie peered at the sky. “We seem to be in the same time period, so that’s good. I wish I had my phone to find out for sure.  And we could find out what the fairy is doing.” Julie turned and faced Amy. “She said arrow stone to Kenny. She was telling him about a compass.”

Amy crossed her arms. “You speak fairy now, do you?”

“Please don’t make fun of me.”

“No. Seriously. What if arrow stone means flint or any of the other stones people used to make arrowheads?”

“Because the fairy didn’t say arrowhead.”

“So what’s the difference? Huh? Tell me, Miss Smarty Know-It-All.”

“I…” Julie turned and looked out the broken window again. “I can’t tell you how I know.”

“Fine. I’m going home and do my best to forget this ever happened.”

“You’ll make fun of me.” Julie swiped at a tear crawling down a cheek.

“What do you mean I’ll make fun of you?”

“Because you don’t believe in magic.”

Amy was silent for a moment. Then, “I was transported from Myers Lake to Myers Mansion by a fairy who talks to my best friend and his kid sister,” she said, walking up to Julie and putting an arm around her shoulders. “I’ll believe anything you tell me as honest to goodness truth.”

“Promise you won’t tell Kenny or anyone else what I’m going to tell you.”

“I promise.”

“It begins with my mom’s grandmother and great-grandmother. I found an old diary in the attic last month inside a secret bottom of an old storage chest. My mom’s grandmother wrote it, and she talks about a time when fairies became afraid of showy mortal humans. That’s what she called them, and she said hunting parties went into the woods and captured and killed any fairy they found.”

“I thought fairies were … I mean, are immortal.”

“Only the good ones are immortal. The dark ones can be killed with silver.”

“What is a dark fairy?”

“Most of the time it’s a fairy who is changed by dark magic, either by accident or on purpose. And sometimes it can be a mortal human turned into a dark fairy by evil magic.

“But not everyone was afraid of fairies. People like my mom’s grandmother and great-grandmother accepted their differences and were kind to them. The fairies often took these people to their world. The last time my mom’s great-grandmother visited, she returned pregnant and was accused by her neighbors of having sex with a fairy.”

“Did she?”

“The book doesn’t say. The village doctor and judge found her guilty and burned her alive like they did to witches back then. My mom’s grandmother was so angry and frightened that she lived in the fairy realm for a long time until she returned at the request of her brother to die of old age and be buried on her family’s homestead. She wrote in her diary that all of her children were fathered by a fairy prince.”

“Wow. That means—”

“Crazy. I know.”

Amy let go of Julie. “That’s how you knew the fairy meant compass when she said arrow stone.”

“It’s like she and I are connected. Her words formed a picture in my mind. She was doing the same to Kenny before she sent us here.”

“Do you think she really lives in the trees at Alice Lake?” Amy asked. “Or in a fairy realm, like the one you spoke of?”

“Probably both. The realm’s entrance would likely be someplace where there are rings of toadstools or rock circles. Fairies like to live under hills that have old trees, or under willow trees near lakes.”

“Like Alice Lake.” The words were barely out of Amy’s mouth when heavy footsteps below the room caused her to look at the door. “Listen,” she said in a loud whisper. “Someone’s down there!”

The footsteps started up the creaky old stairs.

Julie followed Amy to the doorway and peered down a dingy hallway that led past three closed doors on the left and two closed doors on the right. The only light came from a few holes in the roof. It lit the monster’s yellow massive face when it turned at the top of the stairs. Julie fell back into the room and held a hand to her mouth to muffle a scream.

The only exit was through a window. If she and Amy hurried, they could crawl across the branches there and escape before the monster reached their room.

“Come on,” she commanded. “Follow me.”

But Amy remained at the door, peering down the hallway.

The muscle-bound, apelike monster brushed past her. Red eyes locked on Julie. In two strides, the monster was nose to nose with her. Startled by the sudden approach and the rotten stench that came with it, Julie stepped back, but not far enough as a right hand shot out in a fist. Pain shot through her abdomen. She sat down hard, fell on her side, then brought her knees to her chest and gasped for air.

“Julie, what’s wrong?” Amy hurried into the room and smacked off the monster’s back that sent her staggering backwards against the wall.

“Go.” Julie sucked at the stale air, breathing hard, in and out, almost panting while she tried to catch her breath. “Go. Save … your … self.”

“What happened?” Amy asked, crying out alarmed.

The monster glared at Julie. “You’re trespassing. You need to leave.” It stepped closer. “Give me the magic stick. Or do I have to get mean with you again?”

“Yes,” Julie said, still breathing hard, “I mean … here.” She handed it the twig. “We’re going.”

“Quickly,” the monster demanded, sending spittle onto Julie. It pointed a long, thick forefinger at her. “You have to the count of ten to leave this place, or face my wrath.”

“Fine.” Julie sat up.

“One.”

She stumbled to her feet.

“Two.”

She went to Amy and took her by an arm.

“Three.”

“Come on. We’re not welcome here.”

“Four.”

“Why?”

“Trust me. We have to go.”

“Five. You’re almost out of time.”

She pulled Amy into the hall.

“Six.”

She cursed and hurried to the stairs, almost missing a step on the way down. Amy’s quick reflexes kept her from falling.

The front door groaned and tried to resist their exit. Outside, daylight barely penetrated the thicket there. Vines of ivy ran wild, choking life from the trees and gripping the house in a spooky death hold.

Amy pulled at Julie and stopped her from running onto the path of spongy lichen that led to the front gate.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Julie rubbed her sore stomach and looked at the house.

“The monster didn’t want us there,” she said before the ground trembled beneath their feet. A white flash came from the front of the old house, followed by a hot wind that pushed at them and knocked them on their backs. Julie reached out against the wind and found Amy. They embraced as debris of wood, leaves and grass flew over them. For several seconds, Julie thought the world had ended in an atomic blast.

When the wind stopped, she sat up. Then she jumped to her feet and raced to where the old house had stood.

Amy caught up to her, turned in a circle next to the lot filled with the house’s charred debris. “How is this possible?” She sounded stunned. The white flash and hot wind had uprooted the nearest trees and stripped them of their leaves, branches, and bark

“I don’t know,” Julie said. “It’s like magic happened here. Big magic.” She sat on the ground, drew up her legs and wrapped her arms around them. She said nothing for several minutes. Amy sat next her and hugged her own legs. By the time the birds and squirrels and other animals returned from wherever they had gone during the disturbance, she stood, offered Amy a hand, and helped her to her feet. Both girls brushed dirt from their backsides. When Julie turned back, a green fairy hovered in front of her.

“You gave Gulbrier the wand. He has crossed dimensions to change the past. You and your brother must use the arrow stone to find and stop him before he destroys us.”

Both girls stared wide-eyed as the fairy flew away.

“I heard her,” Amy said. “I heard the fairy speak to you.”

“I caused this to happen,” Julie said. “I have to fix it. But I’m just a girl.” She turned and faced Amy. “What am I gonna do?”

Amy took her by the shoulders and said, “We go to my house, call Kenny, and make plans to get that wand away from Gulbrier. I know some people who are pretty savvy about magic and the supernatural.”

“You’ll do that for me?”

Amy looked at the destroyed house. “I’m doing it for us.” She took Julie by the hand and hurried her onto the path.

*–*–*

Vree [fiction]

Changes, Part 4

Verawenda “Vree” Renee Erickson, 13

Vree

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.

“Anything’s possible.”

“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.

*–*–*

Amy [fiction]

Changes, Part 3

Another change (and more to come) to strengthen my characters.

Amy Elizabeth Conrad, 15

Amy

As a teenage male in the 1970s, the hardest part of writing was understanding my female characters. I had plenty of girl cousins to study, but I grew up in a household of six males and one female, which was my mom. Other than her, I had no one of the opposite sex to study at home. I had books like Little Women and Nancy Drew to refer to, but they were dated. It wasn’t until I married and had daughters did I get to observe females up close. And for the most part, they weren’t as different from males than I thought they were. Unlike my mom and my cousins, as well as the March sisters and Nancy Drew, my wife enjoyed roughing it outdoors and watching football. And my daughters played sports and were as competitive as my son and I. The female gender personifications from the pre-1980 literature I had read and the movies and TV shows I’d watched were unrealistic. It was then that Amy Conrad and the other female characters I wrote about came alive.

She strives to excel at music for self-expression; music means everything to her. When she’s down, she recharges by swimming. Free time is spent “jamming” with her band ARC, or “hanging” with friends.

She is gentle, compassionate, kind and charming too. Generally an easygoing person—most of the time, she is slow to anger, but she has a ferocious temper once it is roused.

Strangely (but typical in brother-sister relationships), twin brother Dave—he’s younger by almost ten minutes—seldom resents her. In fact, he “defends her honor” more ferociously than his own. Any potential boyfriends are in for a hard time.

Sometimes, Amy is funnier, more gregarious, and more talented than Dave is, making her stand out and seem like “the favorite child” to their parents. Often, she is sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil to Dave.

Dave, who is the musically untalented child, resents the admiration Amy receives, and views it as favoritism. And Amy views Dave’s accolades in football, baseball and other sports as favoritism. Cue sibling rivalry, and lots of it.

*

Beyond the Music (A short story featuring Amy)

Amy Conrad hefted her black acoustic guitar over a shoulder and started down the knoll of her backyard, pushing through a tangle of waist-high weeds and into timberland surrounding Myers Mansion. The old Victorian house sat vacant and ignored behind its rusty gates, invisible to anyone passing by on Ridge Road’s country blacktop. It was the perfect place for Amy to be alone and work on her music.

The overcast daylight barely penetrated the thicket that swallowed her from view. Inside, ivy ran wild everywhere, choking life from the trees and gripping the house’s exterior walls in a death hold.

Amy made her way across a rear porch of spongy boards and through a doorway that no longer held a door. She lit several scented candles inside the largest room downstairs—a musty sitting room with run-down walls of yellowed and peeling wallpaper. She swept a straw broom across the warped and rotted floor and pushed empty beer cans and cigarette butts into a pile near a window of mold encrusted red drapes. Someone had lost a ten-dollar bill there. It was probably Craig Dunn or one of his brainless toadies who sometimes used the place on Saturday nights to get drunk and high at and have sex with underage sluts.

The police had raided the place many times over the past five years. Here was proof that Dunn and his toadies weren’t going to stop. She pocketed the bill and continued sweeping.

Once the broom was propped again in the corner, she took up her guitar and sat on a wood ottoman—the only piece of intact furniture. She flipped away a strand of her long blonde hair and whispered lyrics while she lightly fingered the steel strings and turned their quiesced sounds into song.

For almost ten minutes, she concentrated on chords and words before she set the guitar aside and went to the cobwebby bookcase with ancient, mold-encrusted books. She dared not touch the books as she got on her hands and knees and fetched her portable DVD player from underneath the bookcase. With a press of the PLAY button, the player started up. Her favorite movie, Go, Johnny Go! still in the machine, came on, so she returned to the ottoman and watched the dim flickering of social differences play to the scores of many dead composers. Soon, she drifted on the music, playing it loud to keep her mind from settling on her usual isle of loneliness, put there because no one her age, it seemed, shared her interest in 1950s and ’60s jump blues, rock-n-roll, and hopped-up country.

Sure, she had a brother, cousins, and friends who talked about and got excited over the rapping remakes of some of those old songs, but no one wanted to listen to the raw energy of the original recordings. And for that reason, she existed alone on Myers Ridge in the rural small-town of twenty-first century Ridgewood, Pennsylvania.

Well, not truly alone. Myers Mansion—named after the long ago playwright who had built it one summer ninety years ago—had managed to keep some of its ghosts. Others had come from town and places nearby, attracted to the old mansion’s size and neglect. They watched and conversed from the shadows of the house, though Amy did not see or hear them. She did not believe in ghosts. Only music.

At the same time, Craig Dunn drove his black Triumph motorcycle across the weeds of what he believed was the driveway of Myers Mansion. He pushed his heavy body from the bike and fought gravity to maintain his balance. Day had become night inside the thicket of trees, and he managed to hold onto the six-pack of Budweiser as he stumbled over roots and branches toward the house. He managed a firm grasp of the beer when he squeezed through the gate’s doorway where a fallen heavy limb kept the door from opening far. But when he headed along the footpath through brambles on the left side of the house, he dropped his favorite beverage three times.

The leaves above him hissed from the treetops swaying in the breeze, as if disapproving his decision to come here.

“I’ll do what I damn well please,” he told them. And although the leaves kept hissing, he felt better for telling them off.

A raindrop smacked him on top of the head. He looked up as the sky jarred him with a deafening boom of thunder. Icy rain crashed through the tree branches and slammed against his face. He held onto his beer and managed to stay upright, staggering backward several steps as though an invisible wrestler tried bringing him to his knees.

He tucked his beer under his jean jacket as faded and worn as his jean shirt and pants and brown leather boots. By the time he reached the same door that Amy had entered, he stepped into a hole in the floor but managed to keep his boot from going all the way through it. With an awkward skip, he stayed upright and cursed the rain and house.

He started toward the kitchen where he had stashed his marijuana three nights ago, then turned around and followed the tinny sound of guitar music to the old living room. He stopped as he entered.

“Um … Hi.” He brought an arm to his brow. Her eyes were like cloudless summer skies, so bright in the candlelight that he was glad he wasn’t colorblind like his old man. “Um … I didn’t know you would be here during the daytime.”

She reached out to him, her arms open and inviting like invisible pulleys attached to his heart. He dropped his beer and hurried to her, pressing his body against hers, feeling her strength and hating how soft and weak he’d become.

She moved her head to look at him. He kissed her hard on the lips, not letting her see the lust pushing away the fear in his eyes.

His breath was heavy and ragged around her mouth; his battered hands explored every inch of her. Her heat drove him to the edge. A swing of her hips pushed him over it.

He fell like before, wrapped in the clutches of what she was. Her fire would become ice now. She would want him to stay with her forever.

He untangled his arms and legs from hers and ran from her and the house’

Inside, Amy awoke from her nap when Craig brought his motorcycle’s engine to a roaring start. As he accelerated into the rain and onto the country road, she lifted her head from the ottoman, looked around from where she sat on the floor, and wondered where the six-pack of beer had come from.

She did not see the ghost girl who stood over the beer, watching the door and waiting for her lover to return.

*–*–*