Even More of the New Novel [fiction]

As promised.

This is the last bit of writing I will post from the new novel. Thank you, everyone, for the likes.

Chapter 3?

Vree

More Blood:

Vree shut the book with a bang. A floorboard squeaked at the doorway and her mom entered the room.

“I hope you like what your dad and I did to your room,” she said. She carried a white plastic basket of folded clothes in front of her, which she handed to Vree. She rested a quizzical gaze on Vree’s face. “Dinner’s almost ready. I hope you’re hungry.”

Vree’s mind cleared. “Is there anything I can do to help?” she asked.

“No, no. Dave and Nola are helping. I want you to rest.” Karrie’s green, sorrowful eyes scanned Vree’s face as she peered at the girl. “How are you feeling? Are you still menstruating heavily?”

Vree’s face heated. Lenny sat motionless next to his treasure and the removed floorboard, listening.

“I’m fine, Mom.”

“Do the burns on your back hurt you? I have some aloe vera cream, if they do.”

“No. The burns don’t hurt and the Internet says they’ll disappear soon.”

Karrie’s gaze remained fixed. “Let me know if you need anything.” She peered at Lenny and the floorboard.

“My old hiding spot,” he said. When she did not reply, he said, “I’ll put the board back right away, Mrs. Erickson.”

“That’s a good idea. And make sure it isn’t loose. Glue it down if you have to. No one needs to break any ankles.” Karrie turned to Vree. “We’ll talk later. For now, though, put away your clothes and return the basket when you’re able.”

“I’m fine, Mom. Seriously. And I’d really like it if you’d let me live a normal life again.”

Karrie looked thoughtful. “I suppose I could have you pick some parsnip from the garden for tonight’s salad. Pick the firm small to medium ones, and nothing with lots of whiskers and brown patches.” She turned to Lenny, “Please go with her and—”

“Mom, I don’t need babied.”

“I just want someone to go with you as a precaution.”

Vree put her basket on her bed, then crossed her arms and sighed.

Lenny stood. “I will, Mrs. Erickson. I know how to look for the really good ones.”

“Be quick,” Karrie said to him. “I’d like to eat before five.” She studied Vree’s face once more. “We’ll talk later, just us girls, when we have some time alone.”

When she left, Vree put away the clothes while Lenny glued the floorboard with a bottle of white glue from Vree’s desk. Then he picked up the large book and laid it on her bed.

“Were you actually reading this mumbo-jumbo, or pulling my leg?” he asked.

Vree bristled at his accusation and shut her dresser drawer extra hard. “I looked and the words came. Is that okay with you?”

Lenny held up a hand, palm out. “I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought that … maybe…”

“What?”

“You know.” He dropped his hand and gestured at the book. “Tell me what all that mumbo-jumbo says.”

“It’s poetry.”

“Poetry? Why would someone write poetry in cipher? I thought it was a book of codes, something top-secret.” His frown deepened. “So, what’s the key?”

“What key?”

“The key to the cipher. You know … the key that told you what the figures meant.”

“I don’t know. They just came together and made sense to me, that’s all.”

“Really?” Lenny opened the book. “Amazing.” His smile and the admiration on his face beamed volumes at Vree.

“It wasn’t amazing,” she said, almost whispering. “It freaked me out that the numbers and figures turned into words. I didn’t mean to get angry. Sorry.”

“Will you read it to me?”

“Now?”

“Later. Right now we need to pick some parsnips so you can eat.” Lenny gestured for her to go. Then he followed her from her room. A white crow appeared on the book and watched them leave.

*

The vegetable garden was behind the garage, less than two feet from the rear wall. The rows ran lengthwise to the field that edged the garden and Vree’s backyard. Something moved in the shadows. She focused on Lenny’s back and followed him toward the field, past potatoes and onions, to the three rows of parsnips. She put on work gloves she had brought along, knelt in the garden, and dug. She glanced at the sky of puffy white clouds and tried to ignore the dread that squeezed her stomach. Lightning could strike anywhere and at any time. Even on a sunny day in October.

She stayed close to Lenny, who worked at her side.

“These are really mutant carrots,” she said. “Am I right?” She dropped a pale yellow parsnip into a wicker basket at her side and knocked dirt from her oversized gloves.

“I guess so, I think.” Lenny pulled a long parsnip from the ground. It was brown and hairy looking. “Yuck.” He threw it away from the garden and it landed in the field. A mangy, orange tabby cat ran from the field, hurried to Vree, and rubbed its thin, bony body back and forth against her knees, purring loudly. She hesitated to pet the cat. Pus oozed from its closed right eye.

“You poor thing. I’m sorry you’re so sick. Are you hungry? Would you like some milk?”

The cat quit rubbing against Vree, looked at her with its healthy yellow-green one, and mewed.

“Come on.” Vree stood. The smell of peppermint gum assaulted her nose when she turned toward the house.

“You found him,” a plump woman with no tan said. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you.” She peered at the cat, snapped her gum, and tilted her head at Vree. Her short red hair corkscrewed in many directions.

Vree stepped back and missed falling over Lenny.

“Hi, Mrs. Matthews,” he said, looking up. “Is this your cat?”

“One of many, Leonard.” She lowered her arms and the cat sprang at them. She lifted it to her face, peered at its eyes, then lowered it to the ground and told it to go home. The cat darted around the side of the garage and out of sight.

“Thanks for finding him,” she said to Vree. “He likes to run off and be away for days. I’ve told him not to, but he’s so stubborn.” Silver bracelets jangled while she brushed hair from the front of her tight-fitting sweater that matched the color of her bright red lipstick and nail polish.

Vree steeled her eyes from the woman’s large breasts. “I’m happy you found him, Mrs. Matthews.” Her gaze dropped to the woman’s black leggings that ended at silver anklets and the top of a pair of black sandals that revealed red polished toenails. There had to be a tattoo somewhere, probably hidden for only Dr. Matthews to see. She blushed. “I have to go inside now.”

Mrs. Matthews placed a hand on Vree’s left shoulder. “When I heard about your accident, I was so worried. I’m glad you’re okay.”

Heat from Mrs. Matthews’s hand warmed Vree’s shoulder. The scene around her changed.

She ran. She ran from the house where she had discovered her husband and his hunting dogs frozen inside the living room. She tried to block the image of how surprised his dead face looked, as though he had realized seconds before his death that he was dying.

She ran across the front lawn, toward Myers Road, stumbling where it connected to the blacktopped driveway, and falling when she entered the old country highway scarred with long grooves made by the metal wheels of Amish buggies. Blood from her nose dripped into one of the tracks and reflected the backlit clouds in a sky that had once been sunny and promising a pleasant night.

The witch’s curse was upon her. Soon, she would be dead too if she stayed any longer.

She stood and ran for her life.

A large, black dog appeared in front of her.

One of the witch’s hellhounds.

She turned. She would risk drowning to get away.

Rolling gray clouds blocked the sunlight when she entered the angry field of brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed at her, scratched her forearms, and slashed her brand new Rayon dress—the blue gray one with lace collar and ivory buttons. The tangled growth grabbed and stole her chunky non-strap pumps, causing her to fall. She hurried upright, glanced back only once at the dog watching her, and left her shoes as she continued to flee from the witch who lived next door.

She found the path that led to the rocky cliffs above Myers Lake. Once she made it past Lovers Leap, the cliffs would become less steep and the path would lead her to Russell Road and the sheriff’s house. She prayed he would be home. There, she would call her daughter at New Cambridge’s college campus to come get her and take her away from Ridgewood and Myers Ridge for good.

She was glad Ben had taught Evelyn how to drive an automobile.

At Lovers Leap, bars of iron piping and chain-link wire still fenced it in; there was little chance of falling over the edge and drowning. But someone had removed the piping and wire at a ten-foot section where the sloping path came close to the edge. One little slip there and she could tumble over the side.

That’s when the witch spoke from behind her.

“You cannot escape me.”

A strong force pushed her toward the cliff.

“No,” she cried.

The force was like a giant invisible hand that brushed her aside, sweeping her off her feet and over the edge.

*

The scream in Vree’s head diminished. The sickness in her stomach did not.

A large black dog stood behind Mrs. Matthews. Its head towered two feet above hers. A pair of red eyes stared down at Vree. She swallowed the lump in her throat.

The buzzing sound returned like a sudden scream for a second. Then it quieted, but not completely. Not until Mrs. Matthews took her hand from Vree’s shoulder.

Vree’s stare remained fixed on the dog’s eyes. Something in them burned like a crackling fire. A sudden voice similar to the one downtown entered her mind.

You see.

Vree swallowed again. The backdoor was too far away to outrun the giant dog.

Answer.

She nodded when she realized the creature had spoken to her. “Yes.” Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and caught her breath. “I see you.”

YOU SEE BLOOD.

Vree winced from the force that pounded her head. “Yes,” she said again.

The dog turned and loped away from her. It turned and looked over a shoulder at her before it bounded into the field and into the woods where the trees and brush were thick and dark and hid the creature from her.

“I need to go,” she said, bolting from Mrs. Matthews and her quizzical look. She ran from the garden and charged into the house. The soles of her tennis shoes pounded across the morning room, into the foyer, and up the stairs to her bedroom.

When she entered the room, she would have mimicked the woman’s scream from the vision had she not been out of breath.

*

Still More of the New Novel [fiction]

As promised, I am continuing to release a few chapters of my work-in-progress novel about Vree Erickson.

Chapter 2?

Vree

Lenny:

A twisting ribbon of blacktop took them to a long, stone paved driveway that led to a light blue, two-story Colonial home, trimmed in eggshell white. Karrie parked inside the two-car garage attached to the back of the house, took Vree’s bags, and headed for the door that led into the laundry room. Vree followed, stumbling for a moment like a newborn foal on its legs the first time. While she paused, the sweet smell of fresh mowed country grass sprang from her dad’s John Deere tractor mower near the entry door. She took a wide path to the steps that led her inside.

She passed through the laundry room, dodged the round breakfast table in the morning room, and tried to ignore the smell of baked chicken from the kitchen as she went into the foyer and climbed the squeaky but polished wooden stairs. She made her way across a soft sea of cream carpet and stopped at her big brother’s bedroom when she heard her dad humming inside.

Charles Erickson, a tall, thin man in a black T-shirt and brown coveralls stood at the walk-in closet with a screwdriver. He had bushy but well-groomed blonde hair, frowning eyebrows, serious looking blue eyes, and an upturned nose above a pinched mouth on a clean-shaven face. He stopped working a screw in the doorframe and said, “Hi, honey, welcome home. Will you hold this door for me?”

Vree sidestepped past his toolbox and held the wooden door until he told her to let go.

“It’s good to have you home,” he said, squinting at her a moment while he turned another screw to adjust the track of the closet door. “I think you’ll like what I did to your bedroom.”

A noise at the open window near the closet caught their attention. Someone had erected an aluminum extension ladder. A boy in a brown leather jacket appeared and caulked the top of the window. He was almost featureless behind the gossamer film of dust on the glass, but Vree recognized her neighbor and best friend Lenny Stevens.

Her father went to the window screen and said, “I’ll pay you an extra twenty if you wash all the dirt off these windows when you’re done caulking. I have glass cleaner and towels in a box on the workbench in the garage.”

Lenny rubbed dirt from the glass with his fingers and peered in. He had an unclouded, intelligent looking face, although caulk marked his high forehead and the left side of his slender nose. He glanced at Vree from beneath a head of thick, burnt sienna hair, before returning his attention to Vree’s dad.

“Yes sir,” he said. His full lips thinned as he grinned at Charles.

“Very well. Back to work, then” Charles excused himself and headed for the stairs. When he stopped and turned back, a thoughtful look crossed his bright blue eyes. “I set up your new easel where your old one used to be. Let me know if you want to move it.”

“Thank you. It’ll be fine.” She paused. “I’ll be fine.”

He nodded. “Get some rest.” He turned and headed to the stairs once more.

The aluminum ladder rattled as Lenny descended it.

Vree went to the window. Below, Lenny hiked up the waist of his jeans and looked up. Their gazes met for a second before he moved the ladder to the next window. Vree went to that window and waited at the screen.

When his face did not appear, she peered down. He was gone.

“Good grief,” she mumbled, “get a grip.” She went to the hall and followed it to her bedroom. Her artist’s easel sat in front of the tall window on the right. She pulled aside her lavender curtains. Something large moved in the dark green shadows of bushes and trees in the field behind the house. She tried to see what sort of animal foraged there when someone knocked at her door.

Before she turned from the window, a pair of beady red eyes peered from the shadows. With a gasp, she took a step back. When she looked again, no red eyes peered at her.

The person knocked again at the door.

“Oh, good grief,” Vree said. “Come in already.”

*

Lenny stood in the doorway, looking around at the room while Vree went to her box of pre-stretched canvases on her twin-size bed.

“It’s so different without carpet,” he said.

“It didn’t always have carpet. Remember?”

“Oh, yeah. We used to slide across the floor in our socks.” Lenny followed Vree to her desk where she unpacked the canvases. “This was our fortress, our pirate ship, our galactic spaceship, and even the Temple of Doom mines from Indiana Jones.” He laughed, “I still have our maps and all kinds of drawings.”

Vree sorted her canvases by size while he reminisced about them playing in her bedroom, as though it had happened a long time ago. His honesty and friendliness relaxed her. And he made her laugh when he told her that he had buried treasure in the floor.

“Seriously,” he said. He went to the window where she had stood moments ago and got on his hands and knees, inspecting the floor. “The new varnish has sealed the loose floorboards, but I hid some of our toys beneath the floor.”

Vree shook her head. “You hid our toys in the floor? Why?”

“Just the stuff that was special.” He peered up at her. “Do you have a knife or scissors?”

Vree fetched an X-Acto knife from her box of art supplies. Lenny took it from her, extracted the blade, and cut at the seams of a board. Vree watched and wondered what lay beneath.

He stopped cutting and said, “Your parents carpeted the floor when we were five. That was ten years ago.”

Vree frowned. “Hey, is my rag doll in there? She went missing right after Mom and Dad redid my room. I couldn’t sleep for weeks without her.”

“Maybe.” Lenny’s shoulders dropped and he returned to cutting at the varnish. When he stopped, he used the blade to lift the board until he could grasp it with his fingers. He lifted the wood and said, “Voila!”

Vree tried to peer inside but Lenny blocked her view as he reached inside. The space was deep enough to swallow his entire arm. He grunted and withdrew a dusty Raggedy Ann doll.

“Sorry,” he said, handing the doll to her.

She took it and blew dust from its cloth face. “This was my mom’s. It belonged to her mom.”

Lenny apologized again and pulled more toys from under the floor. Cars, plastic army men, a pink, stuffed bear with a missing arm—

“That was yours,” Vree said. “You called it Penelope.”

Lenny sat up with a half-filled, blue bottle of bubble solution with the wand inside. He blew some bubbles and Vree popped some of them. She held her rag doll close to her chest.

Lenny pulled out a half-dozen comic books before he struggled with something heavy. When he sat up again, he held a book larger than one of Vree’s largest coffee table art books. Its dusty cover was black, hard leather, and its pages were askew.

“I forgot all about this,” he said.

*

“What is it?” Vree knelt next to the book and looked for a title. There was none, even after Lenny blew away some of the dust, which made her sneeze.

“I found it one day when some construction guys tore up the sidewalk in front of your porch. It was just lying there in a burlap bag. It was so heavy. I could barely carry it to your room. I thought it was important and I wanted you to have it, so I brought it to your room, but you were in the bathtub, so I hid it in the floor. That was just before your folks had your bedroom redone.”

He pulled a loose page from the book. The page was thick and yellow; someone had written numbers and figures on it with a quill pen. He ran a finger over the page. “The whole book is like this. It’s filled with numbers and strange figures, like a secret code. I remember looking at it. None of it makes sense, but I thought it was pretty neat.” He slid the book off his lap, set the page aside, and rummaged again inside the floor for more buried treasure.

Vree picked up the page. The numbers and figures shifted and coalesced into letters that became words.

The transformation startled her and made her dizzy. She closed her eyes and told herself that she wasn’t crazy, that she was okay, that her mind was simply playing tricks.

She took a deep breath, told herself again that she was okay, and looked at the page.

“Free the dancers of truth so that you may know their poetry,” she read aloud.

Lenny ignored her while he continued rummaging.

She opened the book.

“It’s poetry and something else,” she whispered when some of the numbers and figures on the page became words. She sat cross-legged on the hardwood floor, placed the book on her lap, and read while Lenny extracted more toys and comic books from his old hiding place.

The visual clarity of a poem titled Enchantress stood out from the others.

Dost thou think her grotesquery is power?
Sweet the pleasure her shining breast gives.
Yet, turn to see her pluck the summer flower,
And see how long the golden lotus of women lives.
What men of torment take such pains?
That he should seek her all his days.
To sift away life’s joys and gains
On which his mind sees not her ways.

True love is worth the trouble spent.
Truth and beauty kiss in worth’s esteem
Of hard-fought love. Yet he is bent
To the crook of his folly’s mighty fire, it would seem.
He travels not to right his wrong,
His beldame stole his heart’s true desire.
He is lost in the siren of her song,
And dead in her all-consuming fire.

“Oh, how creepy.” Her head drooped over the book and the ends of her hair brushed the page. “These poems must be really ancient.”

Lenny looked up. “Are you reading that?” He craned his neck, leaned toward her, and peered at the page of numbers and strange figures.

Vree ran her fingertips over the ink and read the poem again. She nearly screamed when Lenny dropped a toy red Ferrari sports car, which struck against one of her tennis shoes.

She snatched the Ferrari from the floor. Heat from the metal caused her to drop it as if it had burned her palm. Dizziness overwhelmed her. She closed her eyes and waited for the moment to pass. When it did—

The sun had set. Twilight made it difficult to see detail along the side of the road where her car sat. The dark red LeSabre had a flat tire. She would be late to her son’s birthday party. She tucked her phone down her yellow blouse and inside her black, lacy bra.

She had managed to jack up the front of the car and remove two of the five lug nuts holding the tire to its wheel. But the other three would not budge no matter how hard she wrenched on them. She shook the can of WD-40, sprayed them again, then stood from her crouch at the edge of the road and waited for the smelly grease to do its magic.

The flat was on the driver’s side and that meant she had to work partly in the road. The empty highway and the fields of countryside brush were quiet around her. She pushed her bangs from her eyes and knelt again next to the tire, resting her knees against a blue plastic tarp she had found in the trunk. She brushed away some dirt from her black pantyhose and the hem of her navy blue skirt, and pulled again at a large piece of amber glass from the tire. This time it came out. She replayed in her mind the sound of the broken beer bottle crunching under the tire. She had not seen the glass until the last second before driving over it.

The fading sunlight behind the thicket of trees on the car’s passenger side made her nervous. She headed back to the trunk to find the road flares. She had set the spare tire on the ground next to a ditch of still water. Green scum had collected on the water’s stagnant surface and she thought she could make out the mostly submerged bulging eyes of a frog. It made her think of snakes, so she high-stepped her black high heels past the spare. She could hunt and field dress any wildlife, but she could not stand being around snakes.

She returned to the gaping trunk and looked inside for the box of flares.

A speeding vehicle approached behind her.

She stood up and turned.

Nothing.

She bent over the box again. Again, a speeding vehicle approached behind her.

She stood and turned again.

Again, no vehicle approached.

She brushed at her bangs and flicked a strand of hair from her hand—a chubby right hand. All her fingers were chubby. So were her wrists and arms … she had never been thin. But she had always been pretty. And tonight, Oriankor’s spell would make her beautiful. She wanted Howard to see how beautiful and sexy she could be. After their son’s party and the kids were in bed, she had a special present for him, which was still in the black plastic bag next to the German chocolate birthday cake on the backseat.

Behind her, not far away, a dog howled.

Another dog joined in. Then another until there was a chorus of howls coming at her.

She spun around. A large Rottweiler sat on the median. It vanished as an engine roared toward her.

The white van came fast over the crest of hill and at her. It did not move to the next lane to go around her. The large grille crushed her body when the van slammed into her.

The crash sent the frog to the bottom of the ditch water and spooked a pair of sparrows from their perch on the telephone wires above as parts of the car and van flew in pieces across the country highway. The van’s driver flew through the shattered windshield and cartwheeled into the field like a twirling rag doll, expelling blood and body parts along with loose change and bits of clothing into the patches of goldenrod, buffalo bur, nettle, and bindweed.

*

More of the New Novel [fiction]

May 2019 is here. My novel about Vree Erickson is growing and taking on a life of its own.

Meanwhile, to everyone who follows my blog, I am continuing to release a few chapters of the new book’s beginning over the next few days.

More of Chapter 1?

Vree

The ride home:

Vree and her mom said little to each other as they drove from the hospital’s parking lot. A numb cocoon enveloped her and she barely saw the world around her, including the lighted sign of Molly’s, her favorite restaurant. She rose from her funk at her mom’s insistence and ordered a large cherry berry punch at the drive-through window. Then she slumped in her seat again as they turned on Main Street, leaving the heavier rain at North Hill. The fractured pavement gave way to three sets of bone jarring railroad tracks that ran past an abandoned factory that once said RIDGEWOOD STEEL on its gray, two-story brick wall facing Vree. Now it said ID WO EEL because either the letters had fallen off or someone had removed them. Many broken windows along the building looked like sharp teeth of glass in dark mouths wanting to devour passersby. She took new notice to the cruel obscenities spray-painted along the lower wall. Her own angry words came to mind. She looked away.

Main Street’s ancient brick and cement storefronts pressed tight against each other on both sides of the street. Big windows with names like Suzie’s Styles & Cuts, Jerry’s Discounts, and Coleman’s Sporting Goods in large white fonts called for attention, but few people shopped here. Parking was no problem on either side of the street.

The rain quit, but the sky remained dim with bruised looking clouds. Vree rummaged inside her hospital bag, then bolted upright.

“We have to go back. I left my phone at the hospital.”

“It’s in your overnight bag. I put it there when you got dressed.”

Vree fell back against her seat and sighed.

“Relax,” Karrie said. She stopped at a red light next to The Pickled Pub, a nondescript brick and mortar building with a green steel door that belched two ragged looking men onto the uneven sidewalk. The men staggered past the building’s three grimy windows that had neon signs advertising ice-cold beer inside. The last window sported a black and white sign in it that announced fifty-cent wings on Friday and Saturday nights only.

The men disappeared around the building’s corner and a moment later, three girls on bicycles turned up the street. They shrilled and shrieked at each other as they raced by. The green door belched again and a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman exited. She propped open the door with a broken cement block, leaned against the front wall of the three-story building, and smoked a cigarette. She seemed to pay no attention to Vree watching her, or anything else around her for that matter while she inhaled deeply from her cigarette. Her lined face looked ancient and her plump body had on a tattered green Army jacket, a red sweatshirt, and blue jeans that looked brand-new.

A chill crossed over Vree as a giant black dog filled the beer joint’s doorway. large red eyes peered at her.

DOES IT SEE ME?

The words came to Vree in a shout that hurt her ears.

CAN IT SEE BLOOD?

Vree put her hands to her ears and shuddered from the voice’s ferocity.

Buzzing sounds followed, as though thousands of bees had flown inside the SUV and were now inside her head.

The air rippled around her like disturbed pond water and made her nauseous. She fell back, worried that she was going to lose her cherry berry drink all over her lap.

“Wait,” she cried out when her mom started through the intersection. Something terrible was going to happen. A chill ran between her shoulder blades. “Stop the car. Please stop the car.”

Karrie brought the SUV to a quick stop. “What’s wrong?” Worry mixed with the fear on her face.

The rippling air stopped. So did the buzzing noise, which made way for the hammering of blood rushing past her eardrums. Outside the window, the white-haired woman still leaned against the wall and smoked her cigarette. The dog and its red eyes were gone.

A hand pulled at her chin. “Vree. Look at me. Are you okay? Let me see your eyes.”

“I got really sick for a moment.” Vree turned and fumbled for her drink.

A car horn sounded behind them. The Sorento’s engine stalled for a moment before it roared to life and the SUV leaped through the intersection. Vree almost dropped her drink.

Her hands trembled as she sucked the last of her cherry berry punch though the straw.

“Are you okay?” Karrie asked. Worry edged her voice.

“I’m okay,” Vree lied. She closed her eyes and tried to relax, but her mind replayed the red-eyed dog she had seen and the words she had heard. Does it see me? Can it see blood? What did that mean? What blood? Whose blood? Who had said those words?

Whatever had happened to her was not a seizure. And it frightened her more knowing there was something else wrong with her.

*

Changes and the New Novel [fiction]

April 2019 is ending. I wish I could say the same about my novel. I continue to move forward with it, painstakingly slow.

The novel is about Vree Erickson and is a reworking of Night of the Hellhounds/Margga’s Curse novel, which I published as an ebook in 2013 under its first title, and 2014 under its second one. As of now, its working title is Curse of the Hellhounds, though I am leaning to Blood Curse or Blood’s Curse, perhaps, for its final title.

I have written many synopses for the book over the past four years, changing events and characters and tenses and points of view so many times that I quit working on it several times, always feeling unsure about the story’s quality. Finally, I convinced myself last year to write another discovery draft—a.k.a., a first draft—and let the story unfold naturally. Surprisingly, it was not too different from the original novel.

But there were several major changes. Among them:

  • No move
  • No alien creatures
  • No dead father, no spirit
  • No dead witch, no spirit
  • Bring back hellhounds for major roles
  • Change Margga’s name, yet again

I left the witch in the story but changed her role to one I created in an unpublished draft prior to 2012 when I drafted Night of the Hellhounds. Her surname Dekownik is a Polish surname. Her father, Titus Dekownik—Titus is an alternate spelling of the Polish name Tytus—married Aleta Benitez y de la Herrera, a quiet, passive witch whose family came from Madrid, Spain. Originally, I named their only child and daughter “Marisa,” which means “bitter.” I changed it to the invented name “Margga” in 2013 in attempt to give her an ugly-sounding name. After much consideration, Margga is Marisa again.

To everyone who follows my blog, I am releasing a few chapters of the new book’s beginning over the next few days.

Is this the beginning, Chapter 1?

Vree

At the doctor’s:

Rain outside Ridgewood Mercy Hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the long and narrow plate glass window. Storms had a way of looking worse through windows. Vree Erickson turned her head away.

The storm had darkened the Radiology’s waiting room to a faux twilight. The artificial lighting overhead exaggerated the sterile plainness of the white room she sat in. Even the five gray chairs against the back wall lacked a true designer’s skill.

Vree looked for a clock and found none. Whatever the time was that afternoon, she would be going home soon. She was out of the hospital gown and in her favorite Starry Night T-shirt, black jeans, and a new pair of black and pink Asics tennis shoes.

Her mom, Karrie Erickson, sighed next to her and pushed at the keypad on her smartphone. i hope its nothing serious, she wrote.

“Tell Daddy I say hi,” Vree said.

Karrie nodded. She sent the message a minute later. She wore a white jumpsuit Vree had never seen before, and she ran a delicate hand through her auburn hair, her telltale nervous tic. She smiled at Vree, which widened her strong jawline, but it did not fit with her pinched brows and the troubled look in her bloodshot, blue-green eyes.

“Hello.” Dr. Carlyle rushed into the room and headed straight to Karrie with an outstretched arm. The bottom of his white lab coat billowed from brown slacks while he hurried.

Vree sat up straight while he and her mom shook hands. This was it. Soon she would know what was going on in her head.

The doctor turned in front of her and said, “How do you feel, Verawenda?”

“I’m good.”

“Good.” Dr. Carlyle pulled at the collar of his green shirt, then took a digital notepad from under his left arm and sat next to Karrie, away from Vree. Even though he was probably her mom’s age, Vree found herself attracted to his handsome, good-natured face.

Silence fell and she found the sound of rain disturbing. With each breath, she waited for his revelation. A long moment passed before he stopped referring to his notes. His expression no longer held the good nature from a moment ago.

“Your first CT scans revealed small amounts of bleeding and some swelling in your brain. But that was temporary. Your last scan revealed a tumor.”

His words jolted her. “A tumor? Is that bad?”

“It’s pressing against your brain and inoperable but likely treatable with stereotactic laser ablation.”

“And what is that?” Karrie asked.

“The procedure concentrates on the tumor itself while preserving neighboring healthy tissue.” The doctor peered at Vree, which caused her to lean toward him. “Some patients have seizures afterwards, but they’re mild and happen less often than if you were to have surgery.”

“Do you do the ablation?” Vree asked. “And how soon can I have it done?”

Dr. Carlyle smiled and shook his head. “No. Our hospital is not equipped for that.” Then to Karrie, he said, “It will mean traveling to New York City or Philadelphia. Both have excellent hospitals.”

“She will get better,” Karrie said. “Right?” Hope flickered in her eyes.

“That’s what we’re aiming for. Meanwhile, I have prescribed Verawenda some meds for now. I recommend she rests frequently and takes it easy for a few weeks. No running, jumping, bicycling … anything physical or strenuous.”

“What about her Phys Ed classes at school?”

“Not right away. Maybe some light swimming with a teacher present. Again, nothing physical. No contact sports of any kind.” The doctor referred to his notes again. Vree left her seat, walked to one of the narrow corner windows, and stared at the rain. On a clear day, she would have been able to see past the trees, to the bottom of the hospital’s hillside and the Walmart and McDonald’s at North Hill Plaza. She placed a finger on the glass and traced patterns until she heard her name again.

“She is doing exceptionally well for someone undergoing the trauma of a near-death experience,” Dr. Carlyle said. “I want her to see a specialist in brain trauma for possible physical weakness and memory impairment, as well as altered aspects of her personality while her brain heals. I’ll set up an appointment and call you.”

Vree stopped listening again. The rain had slowed and the window cleared of its kaleidoscope of colored patterns. A white crow walked into view on the concrete ledge and peered in at her with black eyes. It cawed from a large, black beak, its sound muffled by the glass and the rain.

Vree placed her hands at the sides of her face and peered out at the crow. It cawed again before it vanished like a ghost, as though it had never been there.

She closed her eyes and shivered. The tumor was causing hallucinations.

Dr. Carlyle called out a goodbye to her. He and his reflection in the window left the room. It was time to go home. Vree shuffled to her chair and her pink and purple striped overnight bag next to it. Her mom picked it up and handed her a white plastic bag with the hospital’s logo on it.

“What’s this?”

“Important papers,” Karrie said. “Prescriptions, restrictions, and literature on the brain. Don’t lose it.”

Vree scowled, followed her mom to the elevator bay, and entered the large elevator. Before the silver doors closed, she quietly prayed she would not faint or have a seizure and die on the way down.

*