This is the last bit of writing I will post from the new novel. Thank you, everyone, for the likes.
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…”
“You know.” He dropped his hand and gestured at the book. “Tell me what all that mumbo-jumbo says.”
“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?”
“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?”
“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.
Vree swallowed again. The backdoor was too far away to outrun the giant dog.
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.