Changes, Part 2
Lenny Stevens has a new name and personality.
Kenneth “Kenny” Jeffrey Douglas, 15
He, as Lenny Stevens, is the second person I created. He buddied with Dave Evans (now, Dave Conrad) in high school until I wrote him as an adult for a short story called “Dragon Slayer.” He went through some name changes before I settled for Leo Nash, a tall and lanky schoolteacher at Ridgewood High. I changed his name back to Lenny Stevens when I rewrote the story for The Green Crystal Stories, an episodic book about Vree Erickson. Now, I have changed his name to Kenny Douglas for no other reason than I grew tired of his name.
Looking For Gold (A short story featuring Kenny)
On a July Saturday, Dave Conrad rode his green 10-speed Schwinn Super Sport bicycle ahead of Kenny Douglas’s blue one as he led the way to a place where he believed they could find gold. They both wore white T-shirts, blue jeans and tennis shoes, and Dave wore his blue high school baseball cap. Kenny caught glimpses of the white letters FE letters on the cap every time Dave turned to see if Kenny was still behind him.
They headed north on Ridge Road, uphill and down, and then uphill and steep for almost a half-mile. The one o’clock sun was hot on Kenny’s back and shoulders while he pumped his bicycle’s pedals to keep up. Near the top, Dave crossed the road, dismounted his bike, and carried it over a large ditch and into a hayfield. Kenny followed along a path that looked like a deer trail, walking his bike behind Dave until they came to some woods. They left their bikes there after Dave removed coiled rope from his bike, and went the rest of the way on foot, into the cool shade and a swampy outcropping to the edge of a rocky cliff. Twenty feet below, water trickled from the hillside, fell and splattered on rock, and fell again to Myers Creek far below.
“If there’s gold,” Dave said, “this’ll be a good place to look.”
Kenny helped Dave with the rope, tying his end to a young hornbeam tree that Dave had called an ironwood. Dave harnessed his end to his legs and shoulders. Then, when both boys were certain the knots were good, Kenny helped lower him to where water trickled from the side of Myers Ridge. Dave dug around at the wet ground, pulled up rocks, examined them closely, and tossed them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so Kenny returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure his knot held strong.
Past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy, a red squirrel inspected the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage, likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called Kenny back.
He hoisted a grinning Dave who proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when Kenny held it.
“Do you think it’s real?” he asked.
“My dad’s tester at home will tell us for sure,” Dave said before he blew into his bright red hands. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold. “Should’ve brought gloves,” he said before taking the rock away from Kenny.
“What are you gonna do with it?” Kenny asked.
“Melt it and maybe make a bracelet for my mom. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”
Dave pocketed the rock, then took off the rope harness and helped Kenny into it. Kenny kept his feet against the cliff wall while Dave lowered him to the trickling streams of falling water. The water’s icy bite kept Kenny from digging long. Within minutes, he held his cold, red hands to his mouth.
“Pull me up,” he called out. Then, “Wait.”
He reached into the farthest stream on his right and extracted a long, conical piece of green crystal rock from the soft erosion. It was as long as his forearm and shaped like an icicle. He held it by the thick end and brushed away sediment from its smooth, glassy surface, rubbing his hand over the polished object and enjoying the warmth where it tapered to a point. He waved it like an orchestra conductor’s baton at the air next to him.
“Whatever it is, it’s manmade,” he said when Dave pulled him up.
“How do you think it got down there?” Dave asked, taking it by the narrow end and swinging it like a baseball bat.
“It must be old to have passed through the ground.”
“Tomorrow,” Dave said, looking determined, “I’m going down there and look for more gold.”
Kenny frowned. “Wouldn’t it be better to look in Myers Creek? The gold’s high density will have caused most of it to sink to lower ground.”
“The creek is pretty deep. We’d need a way to stay at the bottom and dig. We could rent some tanks at Myers Lake, but I’m really low on cash right now.”
“Maybe we could inspect some of the sinkholes around here.”
Dave’s eyes widened again, but not in a good way. “Are you crazy? Some of those holes are infested with rattlesnakes.”
“I’m not saying we go inside. I’m saying that the ground around the hole may reveal more gold. After all,” Kenny puffed his chest while he displayed his retained knowledge from science class, “virtually all the gold discovered so far is considered to have been deposited by meteorites which contained it. And since gold was found inside Myers Ridge, don’t you think there’d be more of it showing where the ground has broken away?”
“Well, I’m staying away from sinkholes. You never know when the ground’s gonna collapse.”
Dave gave back the long stone, then undid his end of the rope and began wrapping it around his left elbow and shoulder. Kenny untied the other end from the hornbeam tree.
Later, back on their bikes and on the road, they rode toward Dave’s house, picking up speed past a couple of dairy farms, some cow and horse pastures, and an abandoned barn in a field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed. A vehicle had indented the grasses there. Dave stopped.
“My Spidey sense is tingling,” he said when Kenny pulled up alongside him. Kenny chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when the long stone he held vibrated.
He dropped the stone and rubbed his hands together.
“That was so weird,” he said. But Dave’s attention was still on the barn.
There, a blue sedan at the barn backed up and turned around.
“Hit the deck,” Dave said. “Don’t let these guys see us.”
The boys jumped off their bikes, threw them into the field, and then dived for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. Kenny pressed close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of his bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.
The driver stopped the car for nearly a minute when it reached Ridge Road. Dave and Kenny were ten yards away and a horsefly had found the back of Kenny’s sweaty neck. He clenched his jaw as it bit into his skin and sucked his blood. He waited no more than thirty seconds after the car pulled away to slap at the fly and rub at the welt it left there.
“Where are you going?” he asked when Dave scrambled up and headed toward the barn.
“This doesn’t feel right,” Dave said. “Come on. And hurry.”
Kenny returned to the road and fetched the long stone. It looked lighter in color and no longer vibrated. He caught up to Dave at the boarded up double doors of the barn.
“No one does this unless they have something to hide,” Dave said.
They pulled the boards away and entered a musty smelling barn that changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther in they went. They passed an old manure cart covered with burlap. The stone seemed to pull at Kenny’s hand toward the cart. A thought came to him that he should look inside it. Then, as though he had read Kenny’s mind, Dave returned to it and pulled away the empty burlap sacks.
A young girl was inside, bound, gagged, and very frightened. When she was out of the cart and her restraints and convinced that Dave and Kenny weren’t going to harm her, she let Dave carry her to his bike where she rode on the handlebars to his house.
She was 7-year-old Laurie Burnett, last seen at a soccer game at the city park, kidnapped from Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Burnett. Her parents had received a ransom note earlier that week asking for $250,000 in exchange for the girl’s safe return.
Three days later, the police caught the criminals after Laurie identified them as associates at her father’s medical office.
Dave and Kenny became town heroes and received a thousand dollars each from Dr. Burnett. Dave melted his gold and made his mom a pendant shaped in the initial of her first name. And Kenny put the long stone on top of his tall bedroom dresser with his collection of other stones and old coins, forgetting about it until the day lightning almost killed Dave’s uncle and cousin.