My Lead Character Needs a Career

Long ago, I typecasted Vree as a main character-of-interest with an INFP personality. For the most part, INFPs are highly curious, inquisitive, innovative, highly creative, and people who enjoy doing things by themselves … ALONE. Vree has always been an excellent artist, but one who enjoys working in solitude. It’s difficult to craft action stories around a person who would rather be alone making art than being center stage, resolving a central story problem. It’s like trying to pound a large square peg through a small round hole. The writer must spend extra time whittling the character down until she is cooperative, supportive, and flexible with people trying to help her, while being passionate and energetic enough to put her own personal stamp on her work. Sometimes, finding the passion and drive in an INFP character who would rather be somewhere else, doing something else, alone, is maddening.

But I digress. Vree needs a career appropriate to her personality.

In past stories, I experimented with making her a minister. This idea came from the book, Do What You Are (third edition, 2001), by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. The book was—and still is—a useful reference for creating character personalities based on the 16 types (discussed in my last post), and to give my characters jobs. For the INFP, Do What You Are lists careers in Arts, Education, Counseling, Religion, Health Care, Organizational Development, and Technology.

From Arts, I chose Artist, Writer: poet/novelist/journalist, Editor, Architect, and Musician as possible careers for Vree. After all, can’t she have more than one career?

From Education, Counseling, and Health Care, College Professor of humanities/art, High School Counselor/Nurse, and Librarian interested me.

I passed over Technology and Organizational Development because I could never see Vree satisfied working in a business field. However, websites such as indeed.com and truity.com claim that INFPs’ sensitivity to the emotions of others and their supportive nature makes them valuable team members with people that have similar passions of discussing complex topics, being creative, and use big-picture thinking.

Still, I can’t see Vree working 9 to 5 in a diverse and technology focused high-stress business, dealing with sales, customers, and meetings. She would lose her mind.

She needs lots of quiet time, which is why I made her a minister—an ideal job for an INFP character because it allows her to be on her own when her church is not in session. In 2006, I co-authored and published a short story based on this idea at my old blog. I changed Vree’s name in the story, which I always did when I published stories about Vree when she wasn’t a teenager—I was never committed to write about a grownup Vree until now. As a bonus, I have attached that story at the end of this post.

I can still see Vree as a minister. She could paint and sell her art at shows, write novels, work part-time in a library, and write, sing, and record her own music for an independent record label. Would that leave her time for a husband, her obligations as a minister, and some rest and recreation to recharge? I don’t know. But I’m willing to make her that kind of character.

Next on the agenda, I must consider where she lives, what sort of home life she has, and what her husband’s personality is like. Stay tuned.

And now, as promised, story time:

Haunted

Co-authored with Lola Gentry-Dey, 2015.

How could such a beautiful house be haunted? To know the place, it looked no different from any other Victorian country house in Ridgewood.

Reverend Gloria Jackson walked the estate’s sunny grounds that October evening and sensed the leftover energy of a time when wealthy Victorians spent an incredible amount of time socializing inside their homes. In Victorian America, nothing displayed your status like your house, and the house of a successful Victorian family was more than merely a home; it was a statement of their taste, wealth, and education. This house was one of them, preserved to remain impressive through time by superb artisanship and great care. Sprawling over half an acre, with its neatly manicured lawn and shrubbery, it seemed at first glance the most unlikely of places to house demonic spirits.

“Fiona was calling forth the dead,” Melissa Bay told Gloria after dinner later that Friday night. Melissa, a strong-backed woman, sat across from Gloria at the long table. Richard sat to Melissa’s right inside the spacious dining room.

“That’s an alarming statement,” Gloria said.

“It’s true.” Richard sounded ashamed. “She wrote all about her occult doings in her diary.”

When Gloria asked what diary he meant, he fetched a black leather book atop a china cabinet. Gloria leafed through the diary and listened over a glass of tawny port.

Melissa said, “As you know, reverend, when her husband Charles died this past summer, Fiona withdrew. But she seemed happiest inside her library, so we left her alone to paint and read there. It was the library she withdrew to after the funeral. She barely ever left that room.

“Then I discovered this morning that she had locked herself inside. She refused to let me in. Her voice sounded agitated … upset, so I called Richard.”

“I had to kick in the door,” Richard said. “And that’s when, crazy as it sounds, she wasn’t there — and all the windows were locked.

“Even crazier was when we found a Ouija board and tarot cards inside, as well as her diary which tells of how she has been trying over the past several months to conjure up my father’s spirit.” Sadness and confusion twisted his features into a horrible grimace. “What’s happening?” he asked. “What has she done?” He shook his head and groaned before Gloria could answer. “Until today, I never believed in the paranormal, the metaphysical.” He searched Gloria’s face for answers. “What happened to my mother?”

Gloria’s wine glass flew from the table and shattered against the stone fireplace across the room. The Bible she had brought with her—which she had placed the diary on top of—followed her glass. The diary remained unmoved.

Surprised, Gloria and Melissa yelped. Richard cried out, “Mother.” He jumped to his feet. “Is that you?”

The air turned frigid and burned against Gloria’s cheeks. She felt a winter-blooming nip at the tips of her ears and nose.

Richard yelled at the room. “Where are you? Show yourself. Please.”

Large and heavy books thumped to the floor inside the library across the hall from the dining room. Then the chill left and all quieted.

Richard settled his nerves with a hearty gulp from the wine bottle—glasses and etiquette be damned, Gloria reckoned, considering the circumstances. Richard went to the library door where either he or Melissa had nailed a cross to the damaged door as Gloria had instructed earlier during their phone conversation. Richard cursed all that is holy. When he finished, he said, “Exorcise the place, reverend. Whatever my mother has done, fix it. Please.”

Gloria joined him at the door. It had taken great force to open the large oak door. She fingered the splintered wood. “Tell me about the voices,” she said.

“Whispers,” Melissa said as she joined them. “Vague chattering whispers.”

“And laughing,” Richard added. “A woman’s laugh, but not my mother’s.”

Gloria removed the cross from the door and stepped inside the library. A chandelier lit the room and seemed to turn the oak bookshelves and furniture to gold. She helped Richard and Melissa replace the toppled books, many of them art history texts and artists biographies. Outside the room’s tall, rectangular windows, the night had become pitch black. A clock inside the dining room chimed seven o’clock.

A painter’s large easel stood near a window. As Gloria looked at the portrait, the unfinished canvas showed the swift strokes of a seasoned painter. Fiona Bay had sketched her subject with lines of umber and sienna, whisked in golden hues next to gentle blues and pink, and had started forming the glow of flesh with buttery mounds of paint. The woman in the unfinished portrait seemed to be dressed in multicolored satin linens and silk scarves. Her face was promising the color of the finest gold, ruby and sapphire. Her eyes sparkled emerald green and sky blue. Her unpainted long hair flowed down a seemingly endless body of shapely beauty.

“Absolutely beautiful,” Gloria said of the painting and the subject. “She looks familiar. Who is she?”

“I don’t know,” Richard said. “No one has been to the house to sit. My mother likes her time alone, even before father died.”

Gloria looked back at the painting. The cheeks and mouth were refined, as though someone had added paint to the portrait while she had looked away.

She looked away and back again. There was no mistaking it: The painting appeared to be painting itself.

Melissa screamed. “The light. At her easel. What is it?”

Gold light grew suddenly in front of the easel. Inside the brightness, an apparition of Fiona painted with excitement. Unaware of Richard, Melissa and Gloria, Fiona rushed her canvas and painted, and then stepped back to admire her work before repeating the process.

At Fiona’s side was her soul-stealing succubus dressed in a multicolored chiffon robe.

“Keeley.” The color fell from Gloria’s face. Even the fearful cry of the female demon’s name somehow permeated the room with beauty.

“Who is Keeley?” Richard asked.

Gloria’s throat tightened. “Someone I thought I’d never see again.” She thrust her Bible at arm’s length. She had to save Fiona, no matter the consequences. “Set her loose, demon.”

Keeley laughed. Tittered, actually. “The poet is a ministrant. Oh, my long-ago lover, what have I done to you?” She took a step forward and her robe flowed with her.

Gloria told her to stay back, but Keeley advanced slowly, her gaze fixed on Gloria.

Melissa grasped Gloria’s left arm. “Reverend, who are you talking to?”

Gloria thrust her Bible into Melissa’s arms. “Count to ten, then you and Richard go to Fiona. Get her out of here while I distract the demon. Then lock the door and bar it with another crucifix.”

“I see no one,” Richard cried out. “Only that strange light around my mother’s easel.”

“Go into the light, Richard. Your mother is there. You must pull her out while I distract the demon.”

Before he could object or ask any more questions and put all their lives at risk, Gloria rushed into Keeley’s warm, tender and passionate embrace. Evil was not always cold.

“I knew I’d find you again,” Keeley said. Her fervent kiss fell upon Gloria’s lips. Her spicy smell and taste came delivered more delicious than Gloria remembered. Keeley’s long, soft hair—now a gorgeous mélange of burnt sienna, gold, and black—brushed Gloria’s face. It aroused her, but not as it had done more than twenty years ago when she and Keeley were college students.

Within Gloria’s concerned gaze, Richard and Melissa pulled Fiona from the room. Fiona struggled but Keeley’s hold on her had weakened. Gloria expected Keeley to intervene. She didn’t. Her mouth writhed wickedly against Gloria’s and her eyes fluttered with passion.

The door slammed shut. Fiona was safe on the other side.

The kiss ended and Keeley’s embrace weakened. She took the cross from Gloria’s hand and dropped it to the floor. “We won’t need this where we’re going,” Keeley said. Her teeth penetrated Gloria’s neck.

Gloria’s concerns fell away as she plunged into a familiar world of darkness she found both sinful and heavenly.

# # #

New Vree [character development]

Creating a new, older Vree with a different story to tell will void much of the old blogs about her, including her diary, which I published sections of it at Vree’s Journal. But that’s okay. This project is all about change, after all.

The biggest changes will be to her relationships, education, and residence. Also, I need to determine what and where her employment is. It’s important I know her as best I can since she is the anchor character of my novel. And because there will be a past and present version of her, I need to know what she was like in the past, as well as what she is like in the present.

Her childhood personality will be easy to create since I have a lot of material to work with. She has always had an INFP personality.

INFP is an acronym that describes one of the sixteen personality types created by Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers. It stands for Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving.

If you look at this as a 4-stage growth process, then Introverted is stage one. This is Vree’s dominant personality, which developed after her birth and remained her primary personality until she was 12. During this stage, spending time alone energized her. She

  • avoided being center of attention,
  • was more private; preferred to share personal information with select few,
  • listened more than talked,
  • kept enthusiasm to herself,
  • responded slowly; thought things through inside her head, then acted.

iNtuitive is stage two and is Vree’s secondary personality. It came into play at around age 12 and pulled ahead until she was 25. During this stage, she focused on ideas and concepts rather than facts and details. She

  • valued imagination and innovation,
  • became general and figurative; used metaphors and analogies,
  • presented information in leaping, roundabout manner.

Stage three, Feeling, is where Adult Vree will be in parts of my story. This stage of her personality began when she was 25; it will remain the better part of her until she is 50. During this time, she makes decisions based on feelings and values. She

  • values empathy and harmony,
  • considers the effect of her actions on others,
  • likes to please others; shows appreciation easily,
  • may be seen as overemotional, illogical, and weak,
  • considers it important to be tactful as well as truthful,
  • strongly desires to be appreciated.

After Vree reaches 50, stage four, Perceiving, will kick in. Then she will prefer to be spontaneous and flexible rather than planned and organized. She will

  • have an “enjoy now, finish job later” play ethic,
  • change her life goals as new information becomes available,
  • like adapting to new situations,
  • derive satisfaction from doing new things.

Teen Vree

Verawenda Renee Erikson

  • 15; Straight, shoulder length blonde hair parted in middle;
  • Light blue eyes;
  • Light, fair, peach skin; Rarely wears makeup;
  • 5’ 9”/Lean; has strong legs—prefers jogging to clear mind;
  • Prefers wearing casual clothes—favorite color is blue;
  • Introverted; Artistic—loves to create; Talented artist/painter;
  • Prefers being alone with her thoughts—finds bliss in solitude;
  • Born in Ravenwood, 7/28 to Michael and Karri Erikson;
  • Only child; Lives at 34115 Ridge Road in green and brown ranch home;
  • Attends Ravenwood High School—10th grade;
  • Father is lawyer; Mother is vice principal at Ravenwood High School;
  • First name is from maternal great-grandmother, Emma Verawenda (Ackerman) Myers;
  • Middle name is from maternal grandmother, Margaret Renee (Myers) Unger;
  • Nickname comes from initials VRE

Describe Teen Vree in one word: Thinker.

Grownup Vree

Perhaps no other personality type struggles as much to find a satisfying career as the INFP.

Although intelligent and creative, Vree will loathe to “sell her soul” for a paycheck. Similarly, she may hate the rigid schedules, inflexible expectations, repetitiveness, and workplace politics that accompany the typical 9-to-5 job. For this reason, she may drift from career to career, eventually succumbing to social and financial pressures and ending up in a job that is not right for her in the first place.

However, her INFP personality can bring a lot to the table—and there are many satisfying INFP careers. She may find rewarding work as a professor, author, designer, freelancer, independent business owner, social worker, counselor, psychologist, artist, veterinarian, or physical therapist. Really, any career can have meaning for Vree if it allows her to creatively solve problems, help others, and have a degree of independence.

So far, this is what I know about her:

Verawenda Burkhart

  • 27; Shoulder length hair—wears ponytails at home;
  • Married childhood friend Owen Burkhart at 23;
  • Lives at 3175 Lakeview Drive, Alice Lake in Ravenwood;
  • Wears dressy and stylish pant suits at work—jeans, sweats, flannels at home;
  • More sociable, energetic, talkative; Kind, sympathetic, happy to help;
  • Still paints;
  • Still lean; jogs, yoga in spare time; Caver in summer—several caves around Alice Lake;
  • Father is still lawyer; Mother is now principal at Ravenwood High;
  • Wants a child before she’s 30

Describe Grownup Vree in one word: Proficient.

Finding the ideal career

In my next post, I will determine the best career choice for Vree by referencing vocational guidance websites and books.

Ravenwood’s Direction [writing news]

It was 1970 and I was 13 when I created Ravenwood, a fictional town modeled after my hometown in northwest Pennsylvania. I wrote my stories as a diary, telling firsthand adventures with a central character named Vree Erikson. Her complete name was Verawenda Renee Erikson, and her nickname Vree came from her initials VRE.

I stopped writing about her in 1974. I wrote my last Ravenwood story in 1975—I was 18.

I was 44 when I returned to Ravenwood and Vree. One of the first things I did was change the town’s name to Ridgewood because it had a central location called Myers Ridge where Vree lived. I also made a character named Liam her husband. They were my age and had three children—an 18- and 20-year-old at college and a 16-year-old at home.

Two stories came from the changes: A Sinister Blast from the Past and Liam’s Kismet, which the latter is a PDF and based on a story from 1991. I modified both stories and replaced Vree’s name with Carrie and Nora, respectively. I find it interesting to note that I had not changed the town’s name yet in A Sinister Blast.

By 2013, when I published some stories at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, Ravenwood was Ridgewood and Liam was Lenny, Vree’s boyfriend because they were teenagers again. An uncaught typo in the first published story changed Vree’s last name to Erickson. I plan to use the original spelling in all future publications.

I also plan to change Lenny’s name in future publications. I considered naming him Kenny, a consideration I mentioned two years ago at this blog, but I never finalized that decision even though I seemed certain about it in 2018. Since then, I have chosen to call him Owen Elliot Burkhart and I’m leaning toward making him and Vree adults again. I have grown weary of writing about teens. It was fun when I was a teenager pretending to fish at Myers Creek, meeting a girl named Vree there, and doing what teens in small-town USA did in the early 1970s. It was a different world than what small-town life has become today, which wasn’t perfect but was still aesthetic. And it didn’t stink of urban jungle rot—a physical and mental decay of far too many communities in the US today.

Besides, the teen-lit market is a flooded one, especially in the urban fantasy genre, which I write.

I plan to write a contemporary novel of a married couple who has to deal with their past, back to the day when the teen boy—Owen—fished at Myers Creek, met a girl—Vree—and something happened that changed their lives.

Stay tuned. Answers come forthwith.

A Fantasy Trip [fiction]

Hello, my loyal followers. It’s story time. A fantasy tale about a teenage boy and magic.


The trip home to Myers Ridge was longer than Danny Sutton remembered. He sat in the backseat of his father’s Taurus, a bit motion sick, and surrounded by brand-new fantasy novels and superhero comics. His parents, George and Michelle, stared straightaway at the interstate, silent.

Country music—his mother’s favorite—played low from the radio. Their three-day stay in Chicago for the Fantasy Writers and Artists Halloween Weekend Fair was over and Danny had plenty of new reading material. However, reading in a moving vehicle had not set well with his stomach. Now, neither did watching the countryside pass by at 70 miles an hour.

The day had turned to evening and his stomach had gone from feeling lousy to feeling downright rotten. He fished some chewable antacids from his backpack, and then took out his spiral bound sketchpad and an HB drawing pencil. Drawing in a moving vehicle was different from reading in one. Drawing took him deep into imaginary worlds, which would take his mind off being ill.

He found a blank page and scribbled some circles. A clearer image emerged as the circles connected and they transformed into … a … giant … lizard.

No. Keep drawing.

A Tyrannosaurus rex.

No.

A fire-breathing dragon with long, batlike wings.

Yes.

Chills crept up Danny’s arms.

A black night sky surrounded the dragon. He imagined it flying in and out of moonlit clouds above Myers Ridge, swooping down where the woods met the cliffs near the portion that broke off thousands of years ago during an ice age, making the cliffs steep and dangerous … or so Mrs. Erickson, his ninth grade science teacher, said.

He drew his parents’ house on the other side of the woods while imagining that he flew with the dragon—a girl dragon.

He drew another dragon just above the first. He was the second dragon. He and the girl dragon were boyfriend and girlfriend. He liked that.

He imagined that he, the boy dragon, followed the girl dragon through the night sky, racing with her and frolicking amidst the air currents and clouds. They flew over his parents’ house and a pickup truck parked along the road. A man stood outside the truck, looking up at them. The man lifted a long object to his shoulder. It looked like a rifle.

A shot from a high-powered rifle broke the low sound of wind and the lazy flapping of their wings. The girl dragon twisted, then fell to the earth on her back, landing with a thud in Danny’s front yard, dead from a well-placed bullet between the protective plating over her heart.

Danny stopped drawing. He tapped the backend of the pencil against his forehead, contemplating what he had imagined. Who was the man and why had he killed the girl dragon?

In his drawing, the two dragons still flew together in the night sky. Below them, a man stood outside a pickup truck. In his arms, he carried a high-powered rifle with a scope.

Danny shuddered and slammed shut the pad.

“Well, I’m done,” he announced.

His mother half turned in her seat. “Done with what, dear?”

“Fantasy, magic, dungeons and dragons … the whole nine yards.”

“I thought you had a good time,” his mother said. “Didn’t you have fun at the fair?” A frown scrunched up her nose.

“I don’t know. I thought so. But…” Danny ran his fingers across the spiral wire that held his Magic Brand drawing pad together. Magic Brand Art Supplies had made his pencil too.

“Not many people have the talent you have,” the man at the gift shop had told him at last year’s fair.

It was true. He had to be careful what he drew.

“You’ll feel better when we get something to eat,” his mother said as his father exited the interstate. Soon, they ordered food at a Wendy’s drive thru.

Back on the interstate, Danny ate and thought about his drawing. Surely, he had drawn the man with the rifle and pickup truck. He must have been so deep in his imagination that he was not aware of what he drew.

The triple cheeseburger, large fries, and huge soft drink actually settled his stomach as well as his nerves. He thought about drawing more but the evening sun had slipped below the horizon behind them and home was less than fifty miles away.

Danny put his head back against the seat and dozed. He flew again with the girl dragon. Her name was Tavreth and she was nine hundred years old, barely a teenager in dragon years.

In his dream, he made friends with her, which left him feeling good when he awoke.

He recognized Ridge Road. He and his parents were less than a half-mile from home.

As his father rounded a bend, the rear lights of a pickup truck alerted them of someone parked on the road in front of their home. Mr. Langford stood at the driver’s door, bathed in George Sutton’s headlights.

Mr. Langford turned and hurried toward their car as George stopped.

“What’s going on?” Michelle asked as George rolled down his window.

A sickening feeling of dread came over Danny as Mr. Langford told them a fantastic tale. Danny’s aching heart went out to the black lump of a dead dragon in the front yard.

He had to undo this. But how?

He rummaged in the backpack for his Magic Brand eraser. He had never used it before, so he hoped his idea would work. If it did, he had a lot of fixing to do.

He opened his pad to the drawing of him as a dragon flying with Tavreth, and Mr. Langford ready to shoot. Then he erased the old man, his rifle, and the pickup truck.

Outside, each one vanished. He erased Tavreth and she vanished from the front yard.

His mother was quick to turn on him.

He pulled from her grasp.

“It’s better this way,” George said, pulling her away from the boy.

“We’ll start over afresh,” Danny promised as he found the first drawing he had drawn the day after his real parents bought him the pad and pencil.

He erased his pretend parents, the ones who liked taking him places. He erased their pretend car, which left him standing alone on the road in front of his home. He flipped to the second page and erased the locked cell in the basement where his real parents were.

Picking up his backpack, he headed up the driveway and toward the front door. He paused only once, trying to figure a way to turn himself into a dragon. But he cast away the idea. His fantasy life had gone too far. It was time to face reality.

He took a deep breath, opened the front door, and entered.

# # #

Sarah’s Nightmare 3 [fiction]

Author’s Note

I penned this on December 2, 2007. This is the last installment of Sarah’s Nightmare.


Sarah could not believe Julie had followed her. Did Julie actually think scaring her with the knife would make her want to go back? How stupid was she?

Thunder growled.

Sarah stumbled toward the highway. She had to keep going.

More thunder growled. The storm was closer. A car passed before Sarah reached the highway. She wished she had remembered to bring her cell phone. She could have called Annie to come get her and be gone by now.

Sarah turned toward Clearview and the purple-gray sky. Escape from Julie and Odinwood meant going into the storm.

So be it. The thought of Julie following her did not slow her.

She scanned the woods for any glimpse of her. Her muddy boots were evidence she had come from the swampier part of the pond, which meant she had kept herself hidden by the woods on that side of the highway.

She flipped a middle finger at the woods.

A crow cawed from its perch atop a pine tree. Then the bird lifted into the sky with bulky wings as the first drop of rain struck the top of Sarah’s head.

The crow banked left, soared across the highway, and perched atop another pine tree. It pranced on a branch and positioned itself so it faced Sarah. Then it stared down at her.

She yelled at it, told it to fly away.

It cawed at her. A few more raindrops fell as she started up the highway. Sarah had gone about twenty yards when the crow flew past her head and landed a few feet in front of her. It turned, faced her and stood defiant.

Sarah refused to stop. As she passed to the left, it pecked the back of her right knee. She yelled out as pain burned there.

The crow struck her leg again with its chisel-like beak and sent more pain shooting through her.

She jumped away from the crow, then kicked at it as it came for another peck. It dodged her foot, spread its wings, and danced along the shoulder of the road as it squared off with her.

She turned and ran. More rain fell and struck her face. As she wiped rain and tears from her eyes, the crow flew past her head again and landed in front of her. Then it turned and charged.

Sarah screamed and kicked at it as it attacked her legs. Its beak made direct hits as she kicked and screamed at it to leave her alone.

Her legs throbbed in pain. The crow tore at her pants legs and at her tender flesh beneath the jeans. Her head swam and her knees nearly buckled. Her stomach lurched and she staggered to escape. Rain fell harder. A vehicle passed dangerously close. The driver blew its horn as the car whizzed past and continued on.

The crow continued its attack. Sarah kicked blindly, erratically, and uselessly. She stumbled, caught her balance, and looked up. A pair of headlights came at her, fast, and lit up her eyes in a painful, fiery red.

She leapt out of the way in time for the truck to miss hitting her. The crow took flight. Its flapping wings sounded like someone shaking sand from a beach towel.

When Sarah turned, the truck had stopped. Dr. Bisbee got out of the driver’s side and hurried to her.

“Sarah? Is that you?”

She nodded her head and sobbed.

“What are you doing out here on the highway?”

“The crow,” she said in a bullfrog’s voice. “It’s trying … to hurt me.” The pain behind her knees caused her to stagger.

Dr. Bisbee took her by the shoulders. “Where’s your mother?”

Thunder rumbled. Cold rain fell. Sarah lifted her head, opened her mouth, and let the rain quench her thirst.

Dr. Bisbee led her to the passenger door, away from the truck’s warm grill, and helped her climb into a dry seat. The allover warmth inside swallowed her immediately. Before the doctor closed her door, the crow cawed from somewhere nearby.

Sarah’s Nightmare 2 [fiction]

Author’s Note

I penned this on November 25, 2007.


Sarah knew the way back to Clearview. She also knew the many miles that lay ahead of her.

When she reached the highway, she didn’t slow down. She popped up a thumb and prayed for someone to pick her up. No one passed by.

After walking for nearly three hours, her stomach complained of hunger. She was well into the countryside and had passed several cornfields. It was three weeks past July fourth and the cornstalks were barely above knee level. Rain had been scarce this year, but a storm brewed somewhere nearby. The humidity smelled ripe with impending thunderstorms, and the white sky had turned to a gray and green bruise. She glared one last time with all the hate she could muster at her mother’s house behind her, and hoped her anger could somehow inflict pain on Julie.

Her stomach yelled at her, so she scanned the area for food. It was too early in the summer to find any ripe fruit, berries or nuts, and she had no clue as to what lay inside the woods on either side of the highway. She spotted an apple tree with green apples along the edge of a field. The hard ones on the ground were dry and bitter, and the soft ones were rotten. She climbed the tree and found softer, juicier apples there. They were sour but helped ease away the thirst and soften her hunger pangs.

She ate and for the first time since moving into that creepy Odinwood house, and was able to think with a clear mind. She looked out over the countryside, enjoying the view and the coolness of the fingerlike branches wrapped around her. Canada geese honked from a pond just beyond a grove of pine trees. Water glimmered from where she stood and she knew she needed to go there and replenish the liquids she had lost during her walk if she planned to—

What? What did she plan to do? She had no plans, only a longing desire to get to Clearview before nightfall. And to do that, someone would have to drive her there. But what sort of person would stop for a pretty teenage girl?

She realized she was on her own until she reached Clearview and the friends she had left there.

A crow cawed from a nearby pine and caused her to catch her breath. Suddenly, the branches seemed to take on a sinister feel, like fingers with claws closing around her. She scrambled out of the apple tree and ran toward the water.

A hawk screeched from overhead, scaring her and causing her skin to prickle. The air outside the tree felt hotter than before, so she lifted her T-shirt to let in the tiniest of breezes.

She staggered through the tall grass and scratched at the dust and flies settling on her sweaty neck and arms. She slapped at the flies biting at her arms, then stumbled upon a wide footpath. It led toward the pines, so she followed it to a log someone had placed across a narrow creek. The air was cool here and she swallowed it into her lungs. Beyond the creek and between the trees and scrub, the pond beckoned her to rid herself of the sweat and dust and flies that fouled her body.

There were no thoughts of snakes or quicksand or any other danger as she raced to a deserted clearing at the water’s edge. The pond was small and except for a group of Canada geese swimming in the middle, the place was deserted. Green brush and willow trees surrounded the area and there were large crops of rush along the shore that served as refuge from the highway behind her. She hurried out of her clothes and draped them across the rush. She enjoyed the cool air as it pleased her exposed body. Then she strolled into the cool summer water until it covered her breasts. Her feet sank into the dark ooze of the muddy bottom, clouding the water as it rose all the way to her chin.

She stayed there for several minutes and let her body relax and go with the gentle push against her. Her tired body came alive and she wept, sobbing away anger, hatred, and frustration until a fly bit at her face and forced her to submerge and scrub away the dirt and sweat. When she surfaced, a gentle wind rustled in the trees. The cool breeze prickled her skin.

Crystal jewels of water that glittered like diamonds adorned her body when she returned to the shore, and the cooling air brought relief to the welts made by the biting flies. She sat and stretched out in the grass at the water’s edge and basked under a willow tree until she could no longer deny her fear of Julie. She had to get to Clearview and to Annie Freemont’s house if she wanted to stay alive. The Freemonts would let her stay for a day or two, and then she would have to work hard at convincing her mother that she couldn’t return to the house in Odinwood until Julia Stillman was gone.

She managed to put on her underpants without too much difficulty of sliding the cotton over wet skin. And she was about to hook into her bra when a knife’s long silver blade flashed in front of her eyes. She turned and stared wildly at the blonde-haired girl who smiled at her with a beguiled look that twisted from ice blue eyes.

Sarah screamed at the sight of Julie and the hunting knife gripped tight in her right hand.

Julie put a finger to her mouth. “You’ll scare away the geese,” she said. She wore a blue cotton shirt and low-cut blue jeans. Fresh mud covered her black hiking boots. She smiled too kindly as she held the knife at her chest.

“Is this your knife?” she asked.

Sarah covered her breasts even though Julie stared into her eyes, which locked her gaze. Her jaw turned rigid and her mouth became useless. She shook her head no when Julie asked again if the knife belonged to her.

“Found it lying here in the grass. A real beauty, with no rust or nicks or any blood on it.” Julie held the blade close to Sarah’s face. “If it isn’t yours, I think I’ll keep it.”

Sarah tried to speak, but her mouth stayed closed.

“I could use a good knife like this,” Julie said.

Sarah thought of running until Julie pressed the tip of the cold blade against her throat and backed her against a willow tree.

“Finders keepers,” she said.

Sarah swallowed and wished Julie away.

Julie laughed. “Cat must have your tongue.”

Sarah pleaded with her eyes for Julie to release her.

“Lucky cat,” Julie said. “I love tongue.”

Sarah tried to scream but her voice was gone. She clenched her jaw as Julie stepped closer and touched her right breast with her left hand. She pinched gently at the nipple. “Hell of a shock I gave you,” she said. “Did I scare you?”

Julie’s words felt numb to Sarah’s ears. Would the obviously insane girl actually kill her? The point of the knife pricked her skin. She stifled a cry and watched the geese swim on the pond, felt the wind breeze by, and saw it ripple over the water’s surface.

Julie took her hand from Sarah’s breast and held up a fat aquatic worm. “Can’t believe you didn’t feel this bloodsucker feeding on your tit.” She tossed it toward the pond. “That nipple will get sore. Why don’t you come home and let me take care of it for you?” She wiped blood from her long fingers down Sarah’s breastbone. “You do want to be my friend, don’t you?”

Tears flooded Sarah’s eyes. “Wh-What do you want?” she managed to ask in a raspy voice.

Julie licked the rest of the blood from her fingers. Then, “I came to see if you really think you can run away from me,” she said. “That’s all.”

“Please leave me alone.” Sarah struggled to breathe properly. The words felt dead as the pond disappeared beyond the wall of tears growing in her eyes. Her hearing stopped. Her tears fell away to let in grayness where Julie and the rest of the world no longer existed. She was unafraid in the grayness. Here she could move again, breathe again, speak again.

In the grayness, she screamed.

The pond hurried into view. She fell against the willow tree, then bawled as she hurried into her clothes.

Julie was gone. Across the pond, a goose honked. It sounded like her mocking laughter.

Then the first rumble of thunder traversed the sky.

Sarah’s Nightmare 1 [fiction]

Author’s Note

I penned this on November 18, 2007.


The rush of icy air filled Sarah’s lungs and brought her senses back. She was in her bed, but the dark creature from the tree had followed. It hovered above her, levitating by the magic it used to lure her to its lair. Her scream burst from her mouth. She thrashed and kicked at her bedcovers to get away, but they held her fast.

The creature disappeared when her bed lamp clicked on. Mother’s worried face replaced the spot the creature had occupied moments ago. Her warm embrace took away the cold shivering through Sarah.

She helped Sarah out of bed, led her to the bathroom, and left her to undress and shower away her chills. Sarah felt the place on her forehead where the ghost of Susie had touched her. Her warning about Julie echoed in her mind. “She has the power to be inside you. She’s using you to look for me.”

Sarah fell to the floor and wept. She had gone insane. There was no other explanation for the strange dreams. She pounded a fist to the floor and yelled, “Ghosts and monsters aren’t real.”

They couldn’t be real. If they were, then what was Julie? A ghost? Or a monster?

Bile rose in her throat. She vomited into the toilet, watched the yellow sour liquid spread tendrils and flow like ooze to the bottom of the bowl, and wondered what was real. She pinched her right cheek to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. She felt nothing, so she dug fingernails into flesh and made her left forearm bleed.

“I’m not real. Or maybe I’m dead.”

But the delayed pain of her pinches and scratches told her she was alive. But she didn’t want to be. Not after what Julie had done to her.

Another odor, not as sour as the vomit, drew her attention to her armpits. She was very much alive and in need of a shower, now.

She let the shower’s pulsating spray of hot water massage her back. She shivered and shuddered as the anxiety of her recent ordeal left her. She closed her eyes to the warmth running through her. When she opened them, Julie stood in front of her, naked and radiant. Sarah yelped in surprise. She hadn’t heard the shower’s glass door slide open or close.

Julie smiled.

“Get out,” Sarah said.

Julie reached out. Sarah yelled louder. Pain crossed Julie’s face.

“Don’t you love me?” she asked.

“No. Never. So get out. Now.”

Julie’s gaze seemed to harden then, the way they had when Sarah had rudely used the F word on her.

“Why not?” She grinned, then licked her lips as though delicious syrup covered them. “My Sarah doesn’t know what she’s missing.”

Sarah flew open the door and stumbled out. Julie’s voice erupted from inside the shower. “Get back here.”

Sarah’s legs wobbled as she went to the towel rack. She wrapped a long towel around her.

Julie laughed. When Sarah turned back, the shower was empty. Water from the showerhead spilled to the floor. Sarah turned off the water, then sat on the toilet and shook. She tried to cry but the tears would not come.

A hand stroked her left cheek. Susie stood in front of her. Sarah bolted through her and ran to her room, threw on a pair of sweats and her tennis shoes, and ran from her mother’s haunted house. She was never going back. And no one was going to make her.

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.

*

Book News, April 2019

Plans continue to rewrite and retool my ebooks at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. I published my first book there in January 2013. Although my main character was a boy named Lenny Stevens, it introduced Vree Erickson and started the ball rolling for her to take center stage in many of the stories that followed.

I based the first book on a short story I wrote in high school in the 1970s called “Ghost Dogs.” I had such a fun time in 2012 going through my old stories, stripping them down to their bare bones, clothing them in newer outfits, and giving them new titles. The book became “Night of the Hell Hounds.” After publication, I knew the story should have been Vree’s, so I rewrote it in 2014 and turned it into a novel. I drove the librarians crazy at Amazon’s partner site Goodreads with all my changes. You can read more about the story and others by searching through my blog’s archives.

I published the following editions of Book 1 at KDP before I took all my books off market:

  • “Night of the Hell Hounds”: A Ridgewood Short Story, first edition, January 7, 2013, 19 pages
  • Night of the Hellhounds: A Vree Erickson Novel, second edition—title and story change, November 15, 2014, 200 pages
  • Margga’s Curse: A Vree Erickson Novel, third edition—title change, January 1, 2015, 200 pages

Please note that I retitled the third edition, Margga’s Curse, to Mergelda’s Curse at Smashwords where it is still available free for download. I will pull it from the market when I finish rewriting it.

At KDP, I published as Steven L. Campbell. The new books will list me as Steve Campbell. And it will have a new title. Its working title is Curse of Myers Ridge, but I don’t know its final title yet.

Other changes include

  • Vree as a middle child instead of a triplet
  • Her father is alive
  • Her grandparents live at Alice Lake
  • The west end of Alice Lakes butts against the cliffs of Myers Ridge

Currently, Vree’s age is in flux. I want her to be 15, going on 16. 16 is when you can get your driver’s license in Pennsylvania and I don’t want her driving yet.

So, it’s off to work at my mundane retail job today before I can continue the joy of rewriting Book 1 tonight.

Godspeed.

A Pencil Illustration of Vree Erickson

Vree