Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 3)

Chapter 3: Vree’s Comeback

Not long after I published Night of the Hellhounds, 2.0 and the alternate ending version Night of the Hellhounds, 2.1, I found the original draft in a box of high school papers and notebooks. I knew I wanted to bring Vree Erickson back, so I took to the keyboard and composed a story similar to the original.

Night of the Hellhounds, 3.0: The Amazon Short Story

I’m one of those people who picks at scabs; I can’t leave well-enough alone.

However, it was not an immediate decision to tell again the story of ghost dogs terrorizing some local teenagers on Myers Ridge. I was busy making artwork, working 36 hours a week at the neighborhood Wal-Mart Supercenter, presiding twice a month for almost nine years over a group of local writers, and writing other stories for local publication at book fairs and craft shows.

By 2012, after I semi-retired from making art, stepped down as president of my writers group, and saw my hours at Wal-Mart dwindle because of corporate greed, I found myself with more time to write. I rediscovered the original ghost dogs story and began making changes, though I left in the names of the original characters. It was fun seeing Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson play out again on the pages. It definitely took me back to my teen years and brought back pleasant memories. Not everyone’s childhood is as bad as psychologists would have us believe.

Around the same time I was “playing” with Lenny and the gang, I was reading ebooks via a Kindle reader my wife had gifted me, and some friends said, “Hey, Steve, did you know you can publish your own books through Amazon so other people with Kindles can read them?”

I did not.

I wasn’t new to e-publishing; I had published several books via the PDF platform, so I looked into publishing via Amazon. They hooked me like a hungry bass when they offered me a real honest-to-goodness author page. So, I set about converting my rewritten ghost dogs story into language the Kindle would recognize.

I published “Night of the Hellhounds” January 7, 2013.

The following day, my book received a 5-star review that had this to say: More please! Mr. Campbell has started something with this story that I truly hope he intends to continue for a long time to come and soon I hope. This may be his first time in print but you can still tell how much he cares for the story and its characters by the level of detail he uses. “Night of the Hell Hounds” may be a short story in form but it has the heart of something much larger and I shall be checking often for additions to the story.

More? Continue? Something larger?

Could I?

When my second 5-star review came in, I decided I could.

This short story acts like the first chapter of a book you do not want to put down. Although you meet several familiar tropes and may even be tempted to shrug off the Rockwellian setting, the book hardens back to the scary stories you loved as a kid. The characters go from telling ghost stories to living one, and just when you think the other is going to “Scooby Doo” his way out of committing to a certain story arch, THAT’S when you want to keep reading and see what else this world has to offer. I, for one, can’t wait for the next installment.

Upon rereading the story, I saw that I had left in the original cliffhanger. No wonder my readers wanted more. So, I scrambled and found an old story called “Trespasser” that I felt would be a fun platform for Vree Erickson to play on. From there, The Ridgewood Chronicles was born.

Since then, I have offered the book for free, though Amazon was hard-pressed about giving it away. So, I reprinted the story on my blog, as part of The Green Crystal Stories. You can read it by clicking here, or continue scrolling.

Without further delay, I present teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson, their encounter with ghosts and demons, and their struggle to survive atop mysterious Myers Ridge.

The Story

It was the weekend after Halloween, dark and cold on the night Lenny Stevens parked his Schwinn next to the garage at Dave Evans’s place on Myers Ridge. Dave had told him he would be behind his dad’s barn. Lenny found him there, roasting hot dogs on a stick at a fire that failed to advance any warmth. His tent was set up behind him, and his twin sister Amy had her own tent behind her. She sat cross-legged across the fire from Dave, whispering and giggling with Vree Erickson. Lenny’s heart pattered while his gaze caressed Vree’s long hair looking golden in the firelight. Amy saw him, patted her sleeping bag and told him to sit next to her. He did, sandwiching himself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over their shoulders. He quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.

They wore sweatshirts and blue jeans and jackets to ward off the night’s chill, and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful to Lenny. He said hello to her and she nodded, smiled, and remained silent while Amy controlled the conversation about Mr. Baretti—a tenth grade teacher she didn’t like. When she finished, Lenny opened his mouth to make small talk with Vree. He never got a word out.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Dave said, seeming to awaken from the trance the fire had put him in. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.”

The old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion was to Lenny’s right and at the bottom of a hill. It languished inside a thicket of property almost a hundred yards away and barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover then, so he squinted to see the spooky remnants of the mansion destroyed in June by an unknown arsonist. The police were still investigating the fire and Lenny and his friends had their suspicions of the culprit—he figured it was Craig Coleman and his gang of toadies who liked to smoke and drink there, even though the place was supposed to be haunted.

“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. She gave him her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Always with the ghosts.”

He looked again at the house, excited about this new turn of events. The once prominent house had been built ninety years ago by a once-famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood before he and his wife mysteriously disappeared.

“You saw Myers and his wife’s ghosts?” he asked.

“Apparitions of some dogs,” Dave said; “three of them as plain as day. They vanished right before you came.”

“You saw his dogs? The hunting dogs that froze to death?” Lenny almost dropped his hotdog while he fumbled to pierce it with the stick.

“How did they freeze?” Vree asked. She, who had moved last year to Ridgewood, inched closer to Lenny. He began to tell her when Amy interrupted.

“It’s a dumb story that says the county sheriff found Benjamin Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house on a hot summer day.”

“It isn’t dumb,” Dave said.

“Yes, it is. I checked the town’s newspaper archives that time I did an English paper about Cathleen and Benjamin Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house the day they disappeared.”

“So, how did they disappear?” Vree pressed closer to Lenny when she said this.

“No one knows,” he said as he relished the feel of her body against his; “but it started a half-century of ghost stories.”

“The police concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Myers died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean,” Amy said.

“Which isn’t official,” Dave added. “Myers and his wife always flew using pseudonyms, and no bodies or substantial wreckage were ever found, which means there’s no confirmation that they died at sea.”

Amy sounded irritated when she groaned. “It makes more sense than believing that he and his dogs froze to death, or that Cathleen jumped to her death at the bottom of Widow’s Ravine.”

Lenny glanced at where a trickling stream separated the two properties. A half-mile away to his left, the stream fell into a steep-sided gorge called Widow’s Ravine, a place that the rest of the legend claims Cathleen Myers jumped to her death after she found her husband and his dogs frozen. He told Vree about the legend and added, “Her screams can be heard whenever her ghost relives the suicide and plunges into the ravine.”

Continue reading “Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 3)”

Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 2)

Chapter 2: Rewrites, Rewrites, Rewrites

Sometime while I was in high school, I decided to rewrite “Ghost Dogs.”

Night of the Hellhounds, 2.0

It’s basically the same story: some teenagers are on Myers Ridge and they meet malevolent ghost dogs that put someone’s life in danger. During the first rewrite, I took myself out as the point-of-view character and wrote from the perspective of a girl. I’m sure it was the result of a classroom assignment.

Text of the following short story is copyright © 1974 when I finished scribbling it down in a notebook, and 1985 when I typed it into a word processor at college. The language became stronger than what I wrote in high school because of the age of the readers reading my work. I even wrote an alternate ending at a friend’s request. That text was renewed in 2002 when I published it at my old (and no-longer-available) website.

This is the PDF version offered above at my Library section. For a quick download click here.

The story is a bit long but I think if you stay with it you’ll find it fun to read. Comments are welcome, so please consider dropping me a line or two below.

The Story

My name is Nancy Louise Johnson. I’ll never forget the night I almost died. Ghostly hellhounds were snapping at my heels when I slipped on some gravel and fell over the steepest side of Myers Ridge.

The day began like most August days in Ridgewood, Pennsylvania: hot and humid. Every hour, the weatherman at our local radio station promised more of the same, and every hour since seven o’clock that morning my twelve-year-old sister Krissy groaned from her spot in Dad’s huge recliner. It was Friday and as usual, I was babysitting. Dad was at work and Mom and my big brother Ted were shopping in nearby New Cambridge for a new air conditioner.

I pulled the legs of my blue jean shorts away from my sweaty skin as I shifted from a sitting position to a reclining one on Mom’s plushy sofa. After finding a cool spot on the middle cushion, I leafed through another romance paperback from the bag of books Ted’s fiancée Jeanette had given me. Buxom women and muscular men seduced and cheated on each other in graphic description. I threw the book back into the bag and looked over at Krissy.

She lay semi-naked in pink bikini, sprawled out like a Hollywood corpse, her summer tan looking dark in the dim light of the living room. An oscillating fan blew on her every fifteen seconds and tried to lift her flaccid blonde hair away from her forehead and from around her sweaty cheeks. The arid breeze merely flicked the ruffles on her beachwear and rustled the pages of her beauty magazine. I dropped the bag of books next to her. She looked up with blue eyes opened in wonderment.

“What’s up, Nanny Lou?”

“Knock yourself out,” I said before I made my way to the kitchen.

My family calls me Nanny Lou—short for Nancy Louise, but I prefer to be called Nance. Nanny Lou’s more of a girl’s name and I’ve not been comfortable being a girl ever since I developed breasts and discovered boys stop looking at girls face to face when that happens.

The doorbell rang and took me away from peering into the refrigerator.

I’ll get it,” I said and headed for the front door. Krissy sprang up at my heels and followed me to the sun porch where my once long-time friend Dave Evans stood at the front door and peered in at me through the screen. I stopped and frowned when I recognized his face through the screen’s murky grayness. I crossed my arms over my chest if he should want to look there.

“Can we talk?” Dave asked.

I almost said no, but Krissy interrupted me to tell him the door was unlocked. I turned to her and replaced her flirty smile with a pout when I ordered her to return to the living room. She stomped away and when I turned back, Dave stood inside. Unlike me whose red hair and freckles seem to emit beacons of light and attract unwanted attention everywhere I go, Dave stood there looking average: medium height and weight, auburn hair, blue eyes and all—the kind of guy who blends into a crowd.

I started to ask him what he wanted, and then stopped. He wore a long-sleeved pullover shirt and heavy blue jeans and wasn’t even sweating! So okay, that part about him would certainly keep him from blending completely into a crowd.

“What’s up?” I asked, a little too icily.

“Can we talk?” This time his question sounded urgent instead of inquisitive.

“It’s been a while,” I reminded him.

“A long while.”

I pondered this before I nodded and led him inside. I pointed to the ceiling. “You don’t mind, do you?”

He managed a squeaky no and gave away his unease.

“Going to my room,” I hollered to Krissy.

“Turning on TV,” she hollered back.

Upstairs and at the back of the house, my tiny bedroom was a hotbox during summer afternoons. A small breeze coming through my window screen actually made the moment bearable. Dave sacked out in my beanbag chair—the one he bought me last year for my sixteenth birthday.

My dresser and nightstand were littered with swimming and softball trophies. He studied the softball batting trophy I had won two months earlier, the only Junior in our school’s history to ever beat out the entire Senior squad. Preparing to brag about my feat, he interrupted me when he cleared his throat loudly.

“I have something I need to get off my chest,” he said, and with that said he added, “I’m sorry.”

The apology seemed dry and forced, and I surprised myself when I accepted it. I cursed myself silently.

Dave sorely smiled at me and I launched into all the reasons I should have said no. After all, he had taken advantage of me during my time of need. I didn’t want him to think I’d completely forgiven him just yet. I wanted him to remember that our reckless time together last winter had tarnished our friendship. When I had needed him most, he had let me down. I still hated him for that!

He waved at me, caught my attention, and told me the date.

“August twenty-third,” he said. It’s tomorrow.”

I sat next to my orange tabby cat Ginger asleep on my bed and listened to his plan to go camping that night on haunted Myers Ridge. Dave and I had gone there since we were kids. First with my brother Ted and his friends, and then by ourselves. And even though we’d never seen any ghosts there, the legend of Ben Myers drew us there every year. In fact, Dave and I and a boy named Jerry Hopper ever camped there anymore, waiting for a glimpse of the hill’s namesake.

But I was no longer that girl—the flat-chested tomboy who used to fit in easily with the guys until my DNA had decided in January to show everyone otherwise. And Dave was not really as medium looking as I pictured him. He had grown a few inches since our high school graduation and had filled out some in the shoulders and chest. Camping at night with an attractive boy seemed like an unwise thing to do, especially when that boy had told me he loved me and then tried to make out with me.

Before I could turn down his invitation, heavy footsteps and breathing drew close to my door. The footsteps stopped and meaty knuckles rapped against the doorframe. Then Jerry Hopper’s short, two-hundred pound frame entered my room and dropped to the floor between Dave and me. His red AC/DC T-shirt clung to him like soggy plastic wrap, and the waist of his blue jeans had fallen several inches below the tops of his bright white underpants. He gasped for air and tried to speak. After several attempts, he said to me, “Krissy said … you were up here.” He turned to Dave and asked, “Did you ask her? Is it okay?”

Continue reading “Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 2)”

Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 1)

Chapter 1: The Beginning

Those of you who have read my blog since its start in 2011 know I wrote a short story called “The Ghost Dogs” when I was 13 years old and an eighth-grader at my small town high school in northwest Pennsylvania. Until then, I was an avid reader who occasionally wrote stories for class assignments. Things changed when my parents bought me a portable typewriter. How could I not become a writer when I had such a wonderful tool at hand?

The year was 1970. Music was a big deal on TV as well as the radio, so I wrote a short story about a 13-year-old boy who played lead guitar in his high school rock band. From there, a continuing character was born: David Evans. David’s names came from the spooky TV soap opera, Dark Shadows. That show, along with reading Dracula and Eerie and Creepy magazines influenced some of my stories.

I fell in love with creating make-believe worlds the moment I typed my first story. I followed the conventions of storytelling, of course, but I rarely wrote endings to my stories. I wrote cliffhangers so my readers would want to read the next story. Comic books did this, so I did the same. My readers loved it.

I wrote all my stories in first person point of view. At first, Dave was the narrator in his fictional world, which I named Ridgewood. But then I chose to do something novel: write myself into the stories and interact with the characters I created. It made story writing a thrill to do. I loved every minute of it.

Dave and his best friend Leonard Stevens were in the same grade at Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. Lenny’s names were a mix of my own (although Leonard was a stretch of my middle name). His last name would change to Armstrong in 1972, but he was rambunctious Lenny Stevens for two gratifying years of writing young teen adventure stories about Dave and him.

Night of the Hellhounds 1.0: The Ghost Dogs

Faithful readers of this blog may remember that Dave and Lenny were the central characters in “The Ghost Dogs” along with Dave’s twin sister, Amy, and her best friend, Verawenda Erickson. Except for Lenny and me, the others lived on Myers Ridge, a hillside farming community on the western outskirts of Ridgewood. Lenny was a “townie” and I was a visitor from a neighboring city called New Cambridge.

Myers Ridge was well-known by folks in and around Ridgewood for its caves, abandoned mines, a few sinkholes and precipitous hillside, and the occasional sightings of Norman Myers’s ghost. In 1891, Norman Myers found gold on his property atop the ridge. For a decade, he and his family hauled out ores and precious metals and occasionally squabbled over mining rights. Then, according to legend, Norman’s mines dried up ten years later, on the very anniversary of his discovery. Not long afterwards, Norman disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Some suspected he was murdered by James McCoy, an angry business partner. Soon afterward, family claimed to see Norman’s ghost haunting the hill. They claimed his body lay inside one of his many abandoned mines, and would haunt the land until his body was found and given a proper burial. That never happened, so the ghost sightings continued throughout my high school years.

Another weird occurrence was the sighting of another ghost named Myers: Norman’s son, Benjamin. Ben Myers was a famous playwright who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood during the 1930s. He and his wife Cathleen (whose whole name was Ademia Consuela Ramona Cathleen Savakis) lived in California but summered at their estate on Myers Ridge until one fateful summer when he and his hunting dogs were found frozen inside the house. Cathleen died soon afterwards after either falling or by being pushed from a steep section of Myers Ridge called Widow’s Ravine. In “The Ghost Dogs” Ben’s ghost and those of his dogs haunt the estate grounds next door to Dave and Amy’s house. And Cathleen’s spirit cries from the depths of Widow’s Ravine.

Those spooky occurrences became part of my story’s theme and made it a delight to write. Another delight was developing a bigger role for Verawenda “Vree” Erickson. She got her nickname because of her initials VRE (Renée was her middle name). She lived as an only child with her parents in a farmhouse down the road from Dave and Amy.

The Story

It happened that my visits to Ridgewood became weird the Halloween night of 1970 when I sat at my typewriter after supper and went to visit Dave and Lenny. They were behind the barn at Dave’s parent’s place on Myers Ridge, roasting hot dogs on a stick at a fire that failed to advance any warmth when I stood next to it. Dave’s A-frame tent was still set up behind him and Lenny from our September get-togethers, and Dave’s twin sister Amy had her own A-frame tent behind her. Sitting next to her was Vree. My heart pattered while I stared at Vree’s long dirty-blonde hair looking golden in the firelight. She and Amy sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, whispering and giggling. When Amy saw me, she patted her sleeping bag and told me to sit next to her. I did, sandwiching myself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over our shoulders. I quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.

We all wore sweatshirts and jackets and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful. I said hello to her and she nodded and smiled and remained silent while Amy controlled the conversation about a teacher she didn’t like. When she finished, I opened my mouth to make small talk with Vree, but never got a word out when Dave interrupted.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said from across the fire. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.”

I had to turn around since the old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion languished inside a thicket of property below the side yard behind me. The place was barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover above us, so I squinted to see the spooky remnants of the Myers house destroyed by fire years ago.

“What am I supposed to see?” I said. I knew that the once prominent house had been built ninety years ago by a famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood, before he disappeared.

“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. She gave me her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Always with the ghosts.”

I looked again at where a grand house had once stood, excited about this new turn of events. “You saw ghosts?”

“Apparitions of some dogs, actually,” Lenny said, grinning wide. “But ghosts all the same.”

“That’s right,” Dave said. “Three of them as plain as day. Then they vanished when I told the girls. But Lenny and I saw them again right before you came.”

“You saw ghost dogs?” I asked.

Although I had created this world, there was much about it I was still inventing and developing. Every visit was a discovery that got added to my notes.

“Myers bred hunting dogs,” Lenny said between large bites taken from a roasted hotdog. “Then one hot summer day he and his dogs froze to death inside the house.”

Amy groaned. “I can’t believe you think that silly legend really happened.”

“What legend is that?” I asked her.

She sighed and was reluctant to talk about it. Dave began to tell me when she interrupted him.

“It’s a dumb story that says the county sheriff found Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house. I checked the town’s newspaper archives when I did an English paper about Ben Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house when he and his wife Cathleen disappeared.”

“You probably didn’t research hard enough,” Dave said.

Amy glared at him. “I researched it just fine. I even found their obituaries at the library. The police concluded that they died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean.”

Continue reading “Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 1)”