New WIP Installment 4 [fiction]

In this final installment, Abigail and Quinn butt heads, and then Abigail goes to the hospital’s breakroom to cool off. It is still Monday and four days before Halloween. I have a feeling that the holiday is going to pair up Vree and Abigail before the novel ends.

Have a happy and safe Halloween everyone.

Enjoy the installment. Thanks for the likes and comments on the previous posts. And again, please don’t shy from letting me know what you think about this story so far.

4

Abigail was lost in thought as she walked down the sapphire colored hall with its highly polished light green tiled floors. Quinn was a few feet in front of her, his heels clicking sharply. He stopped at the elevator bay. “That was a hell of a surprise,” he said.

“I’m still stunned,” Abigail said. Her belly rumbled—almost as loud as the rumble coming from the elevator shaft. She stood next to him, swayed for a moment, and then said, “For a moment I was worried I was going to lose my job.”

Quinn pressed the only button there, the square one marked DOWN. “He’s crazy,” he said steely, “picking you to work in the OR. But that’s okay. I like the idea of you working for me.” Embers flared at the rims of his eyes as he smiled. “I’ll make you a deal. Sell me the lake house and I’ll back off and give you no hassles.”

And there it was … again, ever since the divorce. The log house at Alice Lake and its thirty acres her grandfather had left her when he died. Quinn had taken a special liking to the place during the marriage, but Abigail had been wise to keep Quinn’s name off the deed.

“Not for sale,” she said. “And what do you mean by giving me no hassles? This isn’t kindergarten. I expect you to behave professionally.”

“I should think you would want to make things easy on yourself,” he growled. “Keep the head surgeon happy, if you know what I mean.”

“Are you threatening me?” She could feel embers heating around her own eyes.

“Here’s some advice,” he said as the elevator car stopped and the stainless steel doors rumbled open and revealed an empty car. “Don’t try to play in the big leagues, Abby.” He stepped inside, turned and flicked his hand at the air as though he was brushing away a fly. “You wouldn’t be working here if your grandfather hadn’t been on the board of directors. And if it was up to me, you’d be nothing more than an admissions clerk.”

The doors began to close. Abigail lunged at the panel and pressed the DOWN button. The doors rumbled open again. “You don’t own this hospital,” she said through a clenched jaw. “And you don’t own me. Not anymore.”

“Is that so?” Quinn grinned, exposing large teeth at her. “You’re part of the OR staff now. My OR. So consider yourself owned, babe.”

Abigail stared at him, hoping to see him fade away like a bad dream. He remained postured in his stance, smirking at her. She swiped at the tears pooling in her eyes.

Quinn laughed.

“You’re nothing more than a bully,” Abigail said.

“And you’re a slut who slept with Tommy. I can never forgive you for that.”

“Forgive me?” She slapped the wall above the panel. In her mind, she had struck that supercilious smirk from his face. “You cheated on me!”

“And who did I find you with in our bed?”

“It wasn’t like that. Tommy was drunk—”

“Keep telling yourself that.” He stepped back, folded his arms over his chest, and shook his head three times. “Good luck carrying this baby to term.”

“I will. I don’t have a jackass for a husband who’ll hit a utility pole and make me lose our baby!”

Quinn shrugged. “Now you just have a jackass who calls himself an artist but paints houses for a living.”

“Well, at least—”

The doors began to close. Abigail waited with her hands balled into fists for her comeback—the one that would hurt him most. But it stayed in her throat as the doors closed. She took in a deep breath, and then let it out with a growl.

“This will never work,” she said. She marched to Wentworth’s outer office. The door was closed and locked. He had left, likely taken the rear stairwell next to his outer office to the administration parking lot. She wondered if he had seen and heard her fighting with Quinn.

Her stomach rumbled. This time for chocolate.

She entered the stairwell and followed it down three flights of cerulean and light-green concrete stairs to the nurse’s break room. There, she charged into the cozy room and halted in front of the candy machine.

“Damn it.” The Kit Kat bars were sold out. She pressed her forehead against the candy machine’s Plexiglas window. She did not see the reflection of the white-haired nurse who stood at the coffee maker next to the sink behind her. Her mind busily played more highlights of her angry moments with Quinn.

When her mind settled from its Quinn attack—and it did, quicker now that Daniel was a part of her life—she spied the last chocolate truffle waiting inside the machine. The money slot refused the crumpled dollar from her skirt pocket. After three tries, she gave up, feeling defeated. Turning, she halted with a yelp as she faced a white Styrofoam cup that seemed to hover in front of her face.

“Hot and fresh,” Emily Frewin said.

Emily’s cinnamon breath wafted over the nutty coffee aroma. The plump woman always chewed Big Red gum. Neither smell alleviated her frustration or her nausea.

She took the cup by its top and bottom and almost dropped it from the heat, then hurried it to the nearest table and blew on her stinging fingers.

Emily sat across from her and eyed her suspiciously. The older nurse’s brown eyes were red and puffy.

“Allergies,” she said when Abigail commented on them. “Every October.” She shook her head. Her short hair held its place above a narrow brown forehead, and where it fell short and straight in the back, caressing a slender neck and resting unmoving on the back collar of her white blouse. Nurses her age were well familiar with hair spray.

“What happened upstairs?” she asked. “I heard you were in Wentworth’s office. It has to be important if it involves Wentworth.”

“I turned in my leave of absence papers.”

“To Wentworth? Why should he care about your leave?”

“I think I did something I’m going to regret.” She watched steam rise from her cup. “In fact, I know I am.”

Emily cocked her head. “You’re going to make me play Twenty Questions, aren’t you?”

“You have to promise to keep this news to yourself until I’m back from leave.”

“Listen, I’m old enough to be your grandmother. I have secrets even my husband doesn’t know, and he thinks he knows everything about me. Now tell me what’s eating you.”

“Wentworth offered me Linda’s job and I accepted.”

A smile filled Emily’s face. “Congratulations.” Moments later, she returned to studying Abigail’s face. “This is where you smile,” she said.

“I know it sounds good, but I’m having second thoughts of working with Dr. Quinn, medicine jerk.”

“You’ll do just fine working in the same room with your ex-husband. You have spunk, Abigail Mae Gentry. You won’t let the sonofabitch push you around.”

“He blamed me again for our divorce. And he wants me to sell him the lake house.”

Emily shook her head. “He owns enough property in and around Ridgewood. Don’t you sell him anything.” She looked down at her coffee. “Don’t ever give in to him. Never.”

Two chattering Radiology nurses entered the room and took turns ordering from the candy machine. Abigail and Emily were silent. After they got their candy and left, Emily said, “I got laid off. Just found out a half-hour ago. But don’t you feel sorry for me. This was a job, not a profession. I can always go back to being a Walmart cashier … anything to keep me busy.” Emily returned to staring at her coffee. “And if that doesn’t pan out, my oldest, Larry, said he can get me a job at the plastics plant, so there’s always that.”

“Well, if you need anything, call me,” Abigail said. An awkward silence fell between them. She was certain there was more Emily wanted to tell her.

“What is it? she asked.

“It’s a bit awkward, but I know you have an interest in the unordinary. So, I’m going to be frank. At first I thought our new patient was either talking to herself or the lightning that struck her may have harmed her brain.”

Abigail leaned forward. “Are you talking about the girl with the unusual name?”

“That’s the one.” Emily lowered her voice. “Or she’s neither and I either saw something real and extraordinary or there’s something wrong with me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Earlier today I answered her bell and just before I entered her room, I heard her telling someone that she wanted them to leave her room … to leave her alone. She even told me that she wanted them out of her room, but no one was there.”

“Fascinating.” Abigail leaned closer. “And?”

“Just that it was so cold in there … colder than usual. I got her a blanket and got her calmed down … she seemed so frightened. But the really weird part was when I was at her bedside, I swear I saw a flash of white at the door, like a camera flash, only not as bright. And in the light—”

Two more nurses—Lab, by their blue name badges—entered the room and headed to a table in the back.

“You’re going to think I’m crazy,” Emily whispered, “but I saw something in the light … a woman … a big woman.”

“That’s Mrs. Radcliffe,” Abigail whispered. “You’re not crazy. I’ve seen her too. She’s a ghost.”

“I’ve never believed in that stuff. But…” Emily swallowed down her coffee. “But I’ve been a nurse long enough to know there’s more to life after this one is over.”

Abigail sat back. “So it seems our young patient may have been talking to one of our resident ghosts. That is definitely intriguing.”

“And spooky to hear you say there’s more than one ghost in our hospital.”

“All harmless.” Abigail stood. “I’m heading back to the floor before people think I was fired.”

Emily went to the machine and bought another coffee. “Since they’re laying me off after today, then I’m taking a longer break.” She sat and said, “What are they going to do? Fire me?”

End of installments

New WIP Installment 3 [fiction]

We leave Vree in this installment and learn more about one of her nurses, Abigail Gentry. I based her looks on the illustration below. The hair in the illustration is curlier than how I described Abigail’s. I may need to add a new description when I sit down for my final draft. Oh well. Anyway, the day is still Monday and four days before Halloween in the story.

Enjoy. Thanks for the likes on the previous posts. Please don’t shy from leaving likes and/or comments on this one.

3

Storms had a way of looking worse through windows.

It was a thought that Abigail Gentry would have turned into poetry a year ago, perhaps even a song played on her old Fender guitar. But thirty-three-year-old Abigail didn’t write or sing anymore. A lot had changed in her life this year. A lot for the better. But not all.

The Monday afternoon rain outside the three-story hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the plate glass windows to Abigail’s left. The stormy October skylight over Ridgewood had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of William Wentworth’s office, which made Abigail’s white uniform glow almost ghostlike against the black plush leather chair in which she sat.

She tapped trimmed and painted fingernails—glossy pink—against the large manila folder on her lap, the folder that contained her unsigned maternity leave papers. Betty Howard at personnel had sent her to the medical building’s third and top floor, saying that Mister Wentworth wanted to see her about her maternity leave.

But why?

Betty said she didn’t know.

Nurses didn’t get called to Wentworth’s office unless it was something big. Something bad, perhaps.

Layoffs—some of them permanent—had struck the hospital’s nursing staff last month, but Abigail knew the CEO didn’t personally hand out pink slips.

Her belly rumbled with hunger. She needed to eat more than tossed salad for lunch. But anything else brought bouts of nausea because of her pregnancy.

She tugged the hem of her skirt over her knees, crossed her short legs, picked a piece of lint from her white pantyhose, tugged her skirt’s hem again, and waited. Alone. In front of her CEO’s black, liver shaped, glass-topped desk. Except for a stack of manila folders at one end, Wentworth’s desk was spotless—unlike the desk in his inner office … or so she had heard.

At her right, Wentworth’s outer door opened and stirred her attention to her ex-husband Quinn Bettencourt entering the room. He paused upon seeing her, then crossed in front of her and plopped his gangly body in the matching chair between her and the stormy windows. He had changed out of his earlier attire of green surgeon’s scrubs and was now sharply dressed in a dark blue suit and solid green tie—the official colors of Ridgewood Mercy Hospital.

She scowled at Quinn’s boyish face easily masking his true age of forty-five. On the surface, it was a pleasant face, filled most of the time with a kindly expression until one looked deep into his ultramarine eyes where cynicism bubbled behind them.

“You here to see Wentworth?” he asked.

She chewed her bottom lip for a moment. Then, “Uh-huh. You?”

“It’s my three o’clock.” Quinn splayed his long legs and sighed. “Every Monday through Friday, like clockwork.”

“Are you always late for your meetings?”

His eyes traveled down her shapely calves, then darted to the closed door where Wentworth’s muffled voice drifted from the other side.

“Is he on the phone?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“So, why does he have you here during our three o’clock?”

“I’m hoping it’s about my maternity leave.”

“That’s right. I hear congratulations are in order.” Quinn grinned wider on the left side of his face, which made him look like he was smirking. He pointed at her trim stomach, not yet showing her pregnancy.

“I’m happy for you and Dick,” he said.

“Daniel. His name is Daniel and you know it, you—” Abigail repressed the derogatory word from entering their CEO’s pristine meeting place. She folded her arms over her chest and waited for Wentworth’s entrance.

“My bad,” Quinn said. He brushed a hand along the side of his short and neatly trimmed brown hair—dyed, of course. “I don’t know why I get his name wrong. Must be he reminds me of a Dick.”

Abigail’s scowl fixed on his steely gaze and she hoped he saw the fire behind her green eyes.

He glanced at her stomach and said, “So, how long has the pudding been in the fridge?”

Abigail turned from him. “God, you’re disgusting.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Fine. How long has the bun been in the oven?”

“You’re a….” She bit her lip.

“I’d guess six weeks, which would explain that nauseas look on your face.” He glanced over her folded arms, at her breasts that pressed against her uniform top. “Feeling tender there, I bet.”

“You’re such an ass.” The derogatory word escaped her mouth easily this time.

She took her arms away from where her breasts were definitely tender and glanced down at her watch. Eleven minutes after three o’clock. Her workday was almost over, so she made mental notes of whether to cook tonight or have send out for dinner. Probably neither since the smells of food had been unkind to her lately. Babies can make such a fuss during pregnancy.

The inner office door opened and a portly but brisk William Wentworth entered.

Quinn sat up and Abigail sat at rigid attention as their CEO plopped into a large swivel chair behind the desk, cleared his throat and apologized for keeping them waiting. Sharply dressed in a beige suit, black shirt and silver tie, he peered eagerly at Abigail’s folder before meeting her gaze and bobbing his balding round head.

“Maternity leave. An early one at that, I hear.” He held out a pudgy hand and waited for Abigail to hand him the folder.

“Dan and I want to make sure there are no complications with this pregnancy,” she said when he opened her folder.

The room stilled. Quinn coughed. Abigail almost looked pleased to see her ex pull at the Windsor knot of his tie.

“Well, naturally I would like to see you back, healthy, as soon as possible,” Wentworth said. His brown eyes danced nervously at Quinn for a moment before he settled again on Abigail. “But considering our recent layoffs…”

“If that’s going to be a problem, sir, I understand should you want me to wait.”

“Layoffs,” he said, as though the word troubled him. He squinted at her for a moment. Then he pulled a manila folder from atop his pile, opened it, and turned to the last page of the papers inside.

Abigail swallowed. Her stomach rumbled and she wished she hadn’t passed on the grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. Whatever she was here for, this was it. She took in a breath and held it.

“Linda Thomas is retiring,” Wentworth said briskly. “Are you aware of this?”

“Yes, sir.” Her attention snapped back to him. “At the end of the year.”

“Sooner. She and her husband are packing this very minute. I tried to get her to stay longer, but her husband found a place in Fayetteville, Arkansas, their dream home. They had to act fast or chance losing it.”

He patted the papers with his left hand. “I’m losing nurses left and right,” he said. He bobbed his head three times at Quinn before he looked again at Abigail.

“You’re an excellent nurse,” he said, “and an outstanding team player. And despite the irreconcilable differences you listed between you and Quinn when you divorced, you have always been professional here at the hospital.”

He paused and Quinn sat forward, suddenly interested.

He’s going to lay me off, she thought. Once the baby is born, I’ll be recovering while standing in the unemployment line.

“You’re young,” Wentworth continued, “but that isn’t a limitation for the job.” He slid the folder and its small stack of papers in her direction. “Should you be so willing, Abigail, I think you’re the best candidate to fill Linda’s shoes in the OR.”

Quinn made a whooshing sound, as though he too had been holding his breath. Abigail was speechless.

“I’ll give you all the time you need,” Wentworth said, “including three months’ vacation after the baby’s delivery … completely paid, of course.”

There was a moment of rain swashing the windows. Abigail finally said, “The OR? Me?” She sat forward, took the folder to her lap, and skimmed the paperwork of her promotion. There were twenty-five pages of legalese. Contract agreements bound nurses all through their careers, but this contract seemed to contain more pages than necessary.

As though he had read her mind, Wentworth said, “It’s a bit wordy, but the standard employment agreement for all nurses hired to an upper staff position: Everything that will transpire during the term of employment, the start date, a description of your duties, who you’ll directly report to.” He looked at Quinn. “Treat her well, Dr. Bettencourt. Leave the divorce outside the hospital.”

“Yes, sir,” Quinn said. He looked and sounded stunned. He shifted his body away from Abigail, crossed his legs, and added, “Of course.”

“You too,” Wentworth said to Abigail. He produced a fountain pen from his desk. “If you’ll just sign and date on the last page, you can begin your new job as soon as you’re back from your leave of absence.”

For a moment, Abigail could not picture herself part of the OR staff. This only happened to intelligent, quick-to-learn nurses.

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Wentworth said, as though he had read her mind. “You’re a topnotch nurse, Abigail.”

She nodded. He was right. She opened Wentworth’s pen and signed and dated the last page. Then she returned the contract and pen and sat back in her chair. A fog filled her mind—a good fog filled with visions of her future.

Wentworth slid the contract to Quinn, who frowned at it for a moment before he signed below Abigail’s name. The CEO followed their signatures with his before he stood, looking pleased.

Abigail stumbled upright, shook Wentworth’s awaiting hand and thanked him.

“The first year will be probation,” he said, bursting her visions of success. “But I know you’ll do us proud.”

“Yes, sir, I’ll certainly do my best,” she said.

Wentworth turned to Quinn. “No three o’clock today. I have some errands to run.”

“Of course.” Quinn stood and addressed Abigail. “Congratulations. I look forward to working with you.”

She didn’t miss the faintest flicker of distress that appeared for a moment in his eyes. Then it was gone.

“Three o’clock tomorrow?” he asked as he turned to Wentworth.

“Yes.” Wentworth turned and retreated to his inner office. When the door closed, Quinn headed for the exit.

Abigail resided in her thoughts for a moment before she stumbled past her chair and followed Quinn into the hallway. There, she paused at a corridor window that mirrored her image back to her, the rain behind it washing down with a constant certainty. She straightened her skirt and ignored the weight of a new obligation upon her, coupled by the sour sickness caused by being pregnant. After all, she reasoned, reflections have a way of looking worse through stormy windows.

To be continued

New WIP Installment 2 [fiction]

Here’s more of the novel I have worked on for the past four years. It features 15-year-old Vree Erikson who wakes up in the hospital after lightning struck her and her neighbor Owen Avery. It is Monday and four days before Halloween when Vree awakens.

Enjoy. And again, please don’t shy from leaving comments.

2

Vree floated, buoyant in the dark.

She struggled to move, to rise out of the dark around her.

An unknown but pleasant voice spoke her name.

“Can you hear me, Verawenda?” a woman asked.

Vree plummeted deeper into darkness for a moment, then rode an invisible wave that lifted her to a small, lighted square white room. She was on her back, on a bed, and covered to her chest by a white blanket. A bank of computerized machines flanked the head of her bed. Clear liquid in a rectangular plastic bag hung above her head on a metal pole. A plastic tube ran from the bag to the top of her right hand, its metal needle held in place by three pieces of clear, plastic tape.

Her voice croaked from the worst sore throat ever as she asked where she was.

“You’re in the hospital.” The woman with the pleasant voice leaned over from the left and smiled down from an oval face surrounded by coils of red hair. Kind, mocha eyes gazed at Vree. “How are you feeling?” She wore a white starchy blouse and a gold nametag with ABIGAIL GENTRY, RN stenciled on it.

Vree tried to swallow away the fire in her throat, but her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth.

“Thir-thty.” She licked her swollen, sandpapery tongue across parched lips.

The head of her bed rose until she sat upright. A white plastic cup came from the left and hovered in front of her face for a moment before she took it from Abigail’s offering hand. The water was warm but tasted good and soothed her throat, clearing it so she could ask the nurse why she was in the hospital.

“You were struck by lightning,” Abigail said matter-of-factly as she looked up at one of the monitors. She swept a curly lock of hair from her brow. “You were unconscious and unresponsive when the emergency medical team arrived at your home. We treated you for dehydration and ran some scans, but it looks like you’re doing fine now.”

Vree handed Abigail her empty cup and groaned, recalling Owen on his back and dead. The white flash must have been the lightning striking him. Tears rolled down her cheeks and a sob broke free from her throat.

“Where are my parents?” she asked, sniffling at her tears.

“Your mom stepped out for some coffee. She’s been with you this whole time. She’ll be happy to see that you’re awake.” Abigail tucked the blanket tighter around Vree’s narrow hips before she said, “I need to ask you some questions, so I need to know if you’re feeling dizzy, feeling nauseous, or having any pain.”

Vree shook her head. Several other questions followed, including if she knew who the president of the country was. She answered each one, but then asked, “Why did you look surprised when I said that today is Sunday?”

“You rest,” Abigail said. She took the pillow from behind Vree’s head and replaced it with a fresh one from a closet in the room. “Dr. Fuller will talk to you later. Meanwhile, I’ll be back later to check on you. The call buttons are on both bed railings if you need anything.”

Vree sank into the fresh pillow. As soon as she closed her eyes, darkness grabbed her and pulled her down into a swirling chaos that stopped when she opened her eyes.

A cool breeze fell on her as though someone had turned on a ceiling fan. A white crow sat perched on the foot of her bed.

Was it the same crow from earlier?

It had to be. After all, how many white crows existed in Ridgewood?

The crow cawed and spoke to her.

“You are not hallucinating, Verawenda Erikson,” it said with a deep, masculine voice.

Vree reached out to press the call button then stopped when the crow spoke again.

“You see and hear me because your magic has awakened inside you, brought to life by the lightning that struck you.”

“This can’t be real,” Vree said.

The crow seemed to stand straighter, taller. “I am Lucian.” It arched its back and flapped its wings as an obese woman entered the doorway and stopped. Her blue hospital gown was tight against her rolls of flesh.

“Why is this girl in my bed?” she bellowed.

“You need to leave, spirit,” Lucian said, turning to face her. “Your time here has expired.”

“It’s my bed. She needs to get out of it. NOW.”

Icy wind whipped across Vree. She pressed the call button.

“Go,” Lucian said. “Leave this plane of existence.”

“But this is my room.”

“Stop it,” Vree said. “Both of you get out of here and leave me alone.”

An older, plump, white-haired nurse entered and passed through the woman as she hurried to Vree’s side. She said, “It’s always so cold in this room. Can I get you another blanket, sweetheart?”

“No. I just want them out of my room.” Vree brought her trembling hands to the sides of her face and pressed them against her cheeks, despite their coldness.

“You want who out of your room?” the nurse asked.

The angry woman vanished like vapor. So did Lucian.

“I want my mom,” Vree said. Her throat had tightened and her voice was barely audible. She peered up at the nurse’s concerned face and said, “I want to go home.”

To be continued

New WIP Installment 1 [fiction]

This is just a taste of the novel I have worked on for the past four years. I’m not a speedy writer since I only have a few hours each day to write.

Okay, a fewer more since my surgery and sick leave from work.

The intro of my novel is lengthy, so I’m putting it here in four installments spread over four days.

Below is the first installment. It features 15-year-old Vree Erikson and her neighbor Owen Avery. The story opens on a Sunday and five days before Halloween.

Enjoy. And please don’t shy from leaving comments.

1

Vree Erikson yanked the steering wheel of her dad’s John Deere riding lawnmower and sent it across several surface roots of the old oak tree in the backyard. She and the mower pitched left, right, left again, then … BAM. The deck slammed down, the blade stopped, and the motor whined for a moment before the engine stalled.

“No, Mom, listen,” Vree said into the microphone of her pink and black Bluetooth headphones, “I need acrylic ultramarine blue. It has to be acrylic paint. I want to finish my painting tonight so it’s ready to take to school tomorrow.” She sighed. “Have Tina help you. She works there every Sunday.”

She was quiet and chewed at her bottom lip until her mom said she had found the correct paint.

“Thank you.” Vree whipped off the headphones and flung them over the steering wheel.

A chilly October wind blew grass and leaf clippings at her back, rippled her white shirt and green palazzo pants, and blew her long blonde hair around her face. She hunched in her seat and sputtered, pulling strands of hair from her mouth.

The sky over Ridgewood had darkened as thunderheads rolled in and dimmed the afternoon sunlight. She needed to hurry if she wanted to finish mowing the backyard before the rain came.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “Go away, Owen. I don’t want to talk to you.”

Her neighbor Owen Avery peered at her from the brown picket fence that separated their yards.

“Are you okay?” he asked. “It sounded like the lawnmower’s blade struck one of those tree roots.”

“I’m still mad at you.” Vree leapt from the mower and fell to her hands and knees when she tripped over a root.

Owen vaulted the fence and hurried to pull her by an arm from the ground. She pulled from his grasp and stumbled over another root. Owen reached for her but she slapped away his hands.

“I told you I don’t want to see you anymore,” she said.

“I know. But listen.” Owen peered at her with anxious brown eyes. The hair on his chin and upper lip made him look older than fifteen. Grass and dirt marked his cheeks and stained his T-shirt and jeans. Had he been in his mom’s pumpkin patch, picking out the best ones for jack-o-lanterns on Friday night?

“This is all Skye’s fault,” he said. “She saw me kiss you at the hayride last night and wanted to know how serious we were. She’s been stalking me at school, driving me crazy, so I told her we, uh…” He combed a hand through his bushy auburn hair, lifting the locks from his forehead. “I told her that we—”

“You told her that we were all the way serious.” Vree scowled at him. “And when she asked me about it after the hayride, my mom overheard her. I spent all night convincing my parents that I’m … you know … that you and I haven’t had sex.”

“I’m really sorry about all this. But if Skye wants to think that we had sex, then that’s her business. Now she can’t play me like I’m someone she needs to score with.”

Vree stepped away from him and leaned her back against the lawnmower’s hood. The conversation had plowed into the one thing she did not want to discuss. And it was all Owen’s fault.

“When two people are in love, they should cherish their love and not say stupid things,” she said. “You need to remember that.”

The pained look left Owen’s face. “Does that mean you still love me?”

Vree pushed her windblown hair away from her face again. “It means you need to make things right with Skye and my parents if you think I’m ever going to talk to you again.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry. I really hate myself for hurting you.”

His apology softened Vree’s anger and eased her frown. She gave him the smallest smile she could muster and said, “For the record, I had a good time at the hayride.” Then she rolled from the hood and grabbed the lawnmower’s steering wheel before Owen could open his mouth and ruin the good moment they had just shared. “Help me get this thing off those roots,” she said. “Okay?”

She steered the mower away from the roots while Owen pushed at the back of the seat. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it.

Thunder boomed from the bruise-colored sky as a sudden cold downpour rushed through the bare oak branches above them. Vree shrieked at the icy rain drenching the back of her shirt.

She hurried back to her seat and tried to start the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life.

“Dad’s going to ground me for a year if I broke anything.” She jumped to the ground. “He’ll be home from his office any minute,” she said to Owen who swiped away rainwater from his eyes. “Come on. We need to get the mower out of the rain.” She pushed against the steering wheel and steered toward the little white shed behind the garage thirty yards away.

Owen pushed from behind again but he slipped several times as his beat up tennis shoes lost traction on the wet grass.

A flash of bright light dazzled the space around them as thunder cracked again. Heat hit them like a giant fist that knocked them off their feet. Vree landed on her back, rolled to her stomach, and rubbed at her eyes with cold, wet fingers. Her body ached everywhere and she spat away an acid taste in her mouth.

When she got to her knees, the rain had stopped. Owen lay on his back a few feet away. He did not move.

Vree forgot her pain and scrambled to his side. He looked asleep but he was not breathing.

His heart made no sound when she put an ear against his chest.

Two EMTs had demonstrated CPR on a rubber mannequin in her Human Health class last month. Was it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if the person was not breathing and external cardiac massage if their heart stopped beating?

She was unable to remember.

Panic kicked in. She cried for help, alone in her backyard. Where were Mr. and Mrs. Avery and Gaylene? Someone needed to call an ambulance, but she had left her phone charging in her bedroom.

She cried out again, almost screaming for help. No one came.

She had to save Owen.

She blew air into his mouth with hers, remembering to pinch his nose closed.

Then she pressed her palms against his sternum for ten quick jabs, but it did not revive him. She called out for help again until a painful sob erupted from her throat. How long had Owen gone without breathing? More than five minutes? Could the human brain live without oxygen for more than five minutes?

She continued CPR, calling for help, and begging Owen to live. She almost screamed when strong hands pulled her to her feet.

Her well-groomed blond-haired father in a gray Brooks Brothers suit towered over her for a moment before he dropped to his knees at Owen’s side. He performed chest compressions with the skill and ease of someone who had done it many times before.

Her dad knew CPR. She stumbled backwards. Did lawyers have to know CPR to be lawyers?

Vree jumped when he shouted, “Did you call nine-one-one?”

“I don’t have my phone.” The words caught in her throat and choked her. She staggered backward. A heavy weight pressed away her breath. She needed to get away from Owen’s lifeless body.

Her dad pulled his iPhone from inside his suit jacket and dropped it in the grass. He snatched it from the ground, swiped away the grass clippings stuck to the screen, and dialed 911.

A white crow cawed from the lawnmower as Vree backed away. It was perched on the seat, and it cocked its head at her, looking with black, beady eyes.

“Not dead,” it cawed before it vanished like a ghost.

Vree stumbled across the tree roots and fell into warm darkness.

To be continued

A Story In Two Styles, part 2 [fiction]

The majority of the people I write about have normal lives, oblivious to the magical all around them, hidden in plain sight. Dave Evans is one of them. He is part of my small-town urban fantasy world.

I believe the urban fantasy story does not have to be rooted in the city. Urban fantasy can also roam into small towns, villages, and the countryside. There, the magic and weird stuff creep in at the edges of a world in which magic is not the norm but hidden in plain sight. Everything appears normal. The people who live there have normal lives, oblivious to the magic around them.

I know it’s a trope that has become cliché, but small-town urban fantasy is my favorite cliché and I do not plan to ever stop using it in my stories.

In this story, which is another draft of yesterday’s story, Dave’s last name is Conrad.

He is one of the first characters I created—I wrote many baseball stories about him before he had his first encounter with ghosts.

Bottom of the Seventh

Subtitled, “Keeping Love Alive”

Dave Conrad’s pleasant expression changed to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air in the dugout had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from June’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s baseball field.

The six o’clock sun seemed to spark Holly Sorenson’s long, soft blonde hair. A halo of white surrounded her from the funeral dress she wore. But she was no angel. Anger and hatred burned in her eyes.

A chill entered Dave’s blue and white pinstriped uniform and gripped his back. Did anyone else see her? He quashed the idea of asking his teammates when she glared at him.

Coach Walker drew Dave’s attention when he cleared his throat and spat. The doorway at the far right end of the dugout framed his short and heavy body. “Pray we all make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” he said as he looked out at the visiting team on the ballfield. His Ridgewood Junior Varsity Fighting Eagles were undefeated this year. But tonight they were two runs behind the New Cambridge Yellow Jackets as the bottom of the seventh—the final inning of the final game of the season—awaited the Fighting Eagles.

He removed his Navy blue ball cap and bowed his baldhead.

The team was quiet at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until he said “amen” and took his spot along third base.

“We can hit this pitcher,” Miles Kibler said, three players down from Dave. “My fastball and curve are a lot better than his.”

“Yeah! We can hit this guy,” Jimmy Franklin, their catcher, said. He sat next to Miles and champed his bubblegum between sentences. “We’ve done it before. Come on.”

Assistant Coach Andrews stepped from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “Stay focused,” he said. “This is your game. Never give up.”

He called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Dave stood, responding to the third name called. The players clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to his spot along first base.

The cheering came to a slow end and Dave’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh of a window behind him, to the fifth row bench behind home plate, and the girl sitting there.

He looked away when Holly glared again.

He had to focus on the game

“Stay in the zone,” he whispered.

A baseball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Jimmy Franklin’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.

Dave put on his batter’s helmet and took his place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway.

Holly glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled him from the hellish anger on her face.

She vanished from view when the fans in front of her jumped to their feet.

Tyler Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to his shortstop, keeping Jimmy from rounding third base and scoring.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Dave’s side.

“Keep the rally going,” he said, huddling close to Dave. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Jimmy from third.”

He slapped the top of Dave’s helmet before he returned to his coaching spot.

The new pitcher threw nothing but heat during his warmup pitches.

Dave’s attention waned. Where had Holly gone?

“Focus,” Dave told himself.

He had stayed away from her funeral and her gravesite. And now she had been here, giving him the stink eye. She hated him.

The home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”

Dave hurried into the batter’s box, dug his cleats into the dirt, and swung his bat menacingly at the pitcher.

The catcher taunted him with “No batter no batter no batter” and the pitcher nodded to his catcher.

Dave stumbled from the batter’s box, certain he had lost his mind.

The pitcher looked like Holly wearing a black and gold baseball uniform. She spat and glowered darkly at Dave from the pitcher’s mound.

“Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.

Dave returned to the batter’s box and tried to stand tall on wobbly legs. “This isn’t real,” he whispered, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at him and missed his head.

He glared back at Holly. “Are you trying to kill me?”

She vanished from the pitcher.

“You killed me,” she screamed in Dave’s head.

He grimaced from the blast of pain there.

He and Holly stood at the downtown playground and park where she had pitched the murderous baseball to him last month. It had been a gloating demonstration on his part of how far he could hit the ball. But the ball had gone straight off his bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck her sternum and stopped her heart. His foolish showboating killed the girl he loved.

He recalled calling 911 on his phone and weeping over Holly lying dead in the dirt.

“I prayed for you not to be dead. But it did no good.”

“You never came to my funeral,” Holly said. “You’ve never visited my grave. You do not love me.”

“I do. It’s just that I could not bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”

“I cannot forgive a coward,” Holly said. Her declaration was as painful to his heart as the pain knifing through his head.

His heart stopped beating. He pushed the fear of death from his mind and tried hard to keep breathing.

“You were everything to me. That is why I fell apart when you died. I stopped going to school until my parents made me.”

Darkness swallowed him. He struggled to continue.

“I love you. Always will. I’d do anything to bring you back. Even trade places if it meant you could live again.”

“You would die for me?”

“Yes.”

Sweet air filled his lungs. He drank it in and gasped from the sudden euphoria he felt.

A hand gripped his left arm and pulled him from the darkness.

“Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as he brought Dave to his feet.

Dave’s vision cleared but a headache pounded. Something like fingers massaged the inside of his skull until the headache became a dull throb.

“I’m good.” He dusted dirt from his uniform and picked up his bat. Then he waited for his coach to settle in the coach’s box before he stepped to the plate.

“You can do this.” Holly said. Her voice was like a gentle breeze to his ears.

He grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Holly as he readied himself for the next pitch.

It came fast, but seemed to loom large and white.

He swung his bat and the Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers as the ball flew from his bat and headed into leftfield, lifting high until it passed over the fence.

“Run,” Holly said. Again, her voice was like a gentle breeze.

Dave dropped the bat and hurried around the bases, meeting his teammates at home plate where they mobbed him as soon as his feet touched home with the winning run.

As the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery an hour later, he sat at Holly’s grave and talked to her—mortal to spirit. He promised to visit her every day. And she promised to be there for him … always.

#

A Story In Two Styles, part 1 [fiction]

I love writing stories. I began when I was around eight or nine years old and I have not stopped.

I wrote the first draft of the following short story during 1972/73. It is an untypical baseball story featuring Dave Evans. When I wrote later drafts, I ended up with two that I liked. The first is below and is closer to the original draft, presented in Now and Then parts. The second story is darker—a bit menacing, which I will post tomorrow.

I like the first one for its light innocence, but the second one has a bite to it that makes it exciting to read.

Bottom of the Seventh

Subtitled, “Soft Like Butter”

Now

He is Dave Evans, a tenth-grader at Ridgewood High School. He has on his white baseball uniform with blue pinstripes. Today is the first Thursday in June and the last day of school. It is also the last regulation Junior Varsity baseball game of the season.

His team huddles at the bench inside their dugout. It is the bottom of the seventh inning, the team’s last chance to score two runs and win the game. Coach Walker reminds the players of that when Dave peeks past the wire mesh next to him, out at the blonde-haired girl sitting in the third row bleachers behind the dugout. The evening sun seems to spark a halo around her hair and white dress, making her look like an angel.

She lifts her face and he looks away to avoid making eye contact.

“Is it really her?” his friend Lenny Stevens asks from his seat next to Dave. He twists and cranes his head to get a better look at her.

“You see her too,” Dave says, glad he has not lost his sanity.

Coach Walker’s pep talk ends with, “No matter how this game ends, it’s been a great year.”

Has it? Dave sneaks another glance at Julie Sommers, then looks away and tries to focus on the game. Coach Walker, a short, heavy man who has a passion for pepperoni pizza, ambles to his spot at the third base coach’s box and gives his first batter, Alan Richards, signals. Alan watches attentively from home plate, then hurries into the batter’s box, looking eager to start a rally.

Dave leans against Lenny and whispers, “I wish this was over.”

“Do you think she still loves you?” Lenny asks.

Dave closes his eyes. “I wasn’t a very good boyfriend.”

Then

“She was the prettiest girl at that party,” Dave said to Lenny in the lunchroom at school almost a month ago. They sat across from each other and kept their voices low. “Remember? It was at my snooty cousin Lisa’s house, during a party for her fourteenth birthday. You were already there, in my Aunt Debbie’s indoor swimming pool, when I got there. She yelled at me when I cannonballed into the deep end. Lisa and some other girls were playing Blind Man’s Bluff there and they surrounded Julie who was blindfolded. She was trying to tag them.”

“Is that when I hit you with the beach ball?” Lenny asked.

“Yeah. I turned around and saw you laughing over at the shallow end. That’s when Julie stumbled into me. She fell and pulled me underwater with her. I squirmed around and the next thing I knew, we were arm in arm and face to face. She took off her blindfold, smiled at me, then pushed away and returned to her game.

“I could have kissed her—our faces were less than an inch apart.”

Lenny nodded. “You should have kissed her.”

Now

The Ridgewood fans cheer and some of them jump to their feet when Alan laces a single over the second baseman’s head. The New Cambridge Yellow Jackets shout encouragement to their pitcher.

Dave glances again at Julie. Staying focused on anything has been difficult. His grades have taken a turn for the worse. And that is when his hitting slump started, when—

“Fire in the hole,” someone shouts as players in the dugout dodge and dive around Dave and bring him out of his reverie.

The foul ball skirts past his knees, ricochets off the bench, and sails back onto the field. He sneaks another glance at Julie. Her face and hair glow more luxurious as the evening sun sinks toward the horizon.

Then

The evening sun glowed through a window inside the Pizza Hut and lit up Julie’s perfect face. She was like an artist’s finest creation. To be in her presence made Dave a nervous wreck.

He stood at the counter, gnawed on his chewing gum, and urged Lenny to hurry and pay for their pizza and go.

“You should say hi before we leave,” Lenny said.

“She’s working.”

“So?”

“I don’t want her to get fired.”

Julie picked up her tray from the table she had just bussed and headed toward Dave. Lenny had to hammer him on the back to dislodge the gum wedged against his windpipe.

When Dave could breathe again, he stepped in front of Julie before she could enter the kitchen and bumped her tray, knocking over a glass of half-finished iced tea. It spilled down the front of Julie’s uniform.

She shrieked, then hurried into the kitchen and left behind a dumbfounded Dave.

Now

Lenny pokes him in the ribs with a bony elbow and tells him he is on deck. Dave seems to float from his seat and to the on-deck circle in foul territory. He swings a weighted bat and dreams of hitting another home run for beautiful Julie Sommers.

Then

After that horrible event at Pizza Hut, Dave entered a funk and spent some time at a safe distance from Julie.

When baseball season started at school, she came to his first game. He did not know she was there until after he hit a homerun to end a tie game. She came to the dugout and asked, “What’s it like to hit a game-winning homerun?”

Dave was speechless. His mouth seemed to petrify.

Why was she here, talking to him?

“I’m the sports reporter for the school paper,” she said.

It felt like several long minutes had passed before he could work his voice again. Julie had turned away and was speaking to Coach Walker when Dave blurted, “It’s such a wonderful feeling when a batter connects with the ball and hits the perfect hit.”

“And what is the perfect hit?” she asked, turning back to him.

“It’s when the ball feels soft against the bat when a batter makes contact. Sometimes there is barely a feeling at all.”

“How soft does it feel?”

“Really soft, like the ball is made of…” His mind scrambled to think of the right word.

“Soft like rubber?” she asked.

“Softer. Creamier. Smoother.”

“Like butter?”

Yes. Like hitting butter. She was perfect.

“Would you like to go on a date?” she asked.

Again, Dave’s mouth seemed to petrify.

“You can let me know at school tomorrow,” she said with a smile before walking away.

Now

Dave puts on a batter’s helmet. The scoreboard behind the centerfield fence shows two outs. He wonders if Petey Jackson, his teammate at bat, will be the final out. Petey answers his question by placing a hot bouncing double between leftfield and centerfield. The center fielder is quick to get to the ball. He throws it to his shortstop, keeping Alan Richards from rounding third base and scoring the tying run.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach calls for a pitcher change and Coach Walker is quick to get to Dave.

“Forget about those last two strikeouts,” he says, which causes those last two strikeouts to loom large in Dave’s mind. “Just relax and make contact. Like hitting butter.”

Dave steals a glance at Julie. Coach Walker places a beefy hand on Dave’s thin shoulder. “You can do this. Empty your mind of everything around you and focus only on the ball.”

Dave nods and tries to ignore the anxiety dancing across his back.

“Like hitting butter.”

Then

“A loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter,” Dave and Lenny sang out as they walked beneath the gentle May sun to Maynard’s grocery store downtown. Lenny held out his mom’s shopping list of bread, milk and butter, which the boys found hilarious since it mimicked one of their favorite segments from television’s Sesame Street.

“You should go out with her,” Lenny said.

“Who? Julie?”

Lenny laughed. “Of course. I hear she’s really into you.”

Dave forced his fists into his jeans front pockets. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“Come on, you have to do this while she still has feelings for you. But if you keep turning her down, you’re going to lose her.”

Dave shook his head and Lenny continued his campaign.

They carried on for several blocks to downtown until an ambulance screamed past them toward the hospital. A female police officer guided them across the street at Main and Elm intersection where broken glass from an accident still littered the street. A tow truck drove away with one of the cars from the accident. Another police officer directed traffic around the other damaged car still in the intersection.

An elderly woman at Maynard’s told them that a car had run a red light and hit another car broadside. The drivers from the cars were okay, she said. However, a young girl in the second car was in critical condition.

Dave and Lenny reflected on their own mortality. It frightened them to think about death coming suddenly and taking one of them away.

Now

Dave looks one more time at Julie, enters the batter’s box, digs his cleats into the dirt, and swings his bat menacingly at the replacement pitcher.

“No batter no batter no batter,” the Yellow Jackets’ catcher taunts.

The pitcher nods to his catcher, checks Alan Richards taking a big lead from third base, glances at Petey Jackson stepping away from second base, then delivers a letter high fastball that blows past Dave.

“Stee-rike one!” the umpire bellows.

Coach Walker gives Dave a nod and raises his thumbs.

Dave steps back in the batter’s box. The pitcher eyeballs Alan who steps off the bag as the third baseman leans toward third base. Nothing happens, so Dave steps out of the batter’s box and sniff at the dust in the air. And Julie’s rosy perfume.

She has vanished from her seat.

“Butter pitch,” she says; her voice is like a small echo in Dave’s ears. “Let’s hit the ball and end this game.”

Dave shivers from the strange sensation of Julie’s soul inside him.

“Batter up,” the umpire says.

Dave gulps, nods, and enters the batter’s box on wobbly legs. The pitcher nods to his catcher and throws a chin-high fastball. He knows not to swing at it, but an unfamiliar urge forces him to swing anyway.

The bat strikes the baseball.

“Like hitting butter,” Julie says.

The ball shoots high above leftfield and clears the fence.

Dave circles the bases, a hero who is unsure of what happened. His teammates mob him at home plate.

He retrieves his baseball glove from the dugout and slips away from Lenny and the others as he heads away from the high school. Ridgewood Cemetery sits across the street. The sinking sun plays shadows across the gentle hills of tombs and headstones. He stops at a large, pink marble headstone at a fresh grave. A breeze stirs through the trees and he enjoys its warmth, which is so like Julie’s love.

He speaks quietly to her soul still inside him. They talk—boy and girl, mortal and spirit—until, in the final moments of twilight, a cool breeze stirs through the trees of the cemetery and he leaves Julie behind.

But before he goes, he embraces her love one last time.

#

Introducing Owen [character development]

I think all young writers began telling their stories in first-person point of view.

I did, fifty years ago. I wrote many of my stories at school, but I did it at a different level than my classmates by making myself a character in my stories. A few teachers suggested I replace “me, Steve Campbell, the I character” with a narrator that had a different name to prevent confusing my readers. So, I reluctantly created Owen Burkhart to be my narrator.

Actually, I already had a character named Owen Burkhart. He was a 9-year-old boy who lived across the street from an old woman whom he thought was a witch. I had written his story (not very well) in third-person point of view, so I changed it to first-person and he became my new narrator.

He went through a few more name changes over the years, but he was always Vree’s confidant. His story has always been about her, which is why I want to tell her story from his viewpoint.

I have not decided on how to tell his story about Vree. I have a problem with first-person point of view, so this project may end up in my Unfinished Projects drawer.

Whichever the outcome, their story begins with a mystery.

Vree is interested in photography, so she snaps a photo of her new, remodeled home with her new digital camera. Owen watches her from his front yard. She seems bewildered, so he goes to her. She shows him the digital image and thinks something is wrong with her camera. The image shows the house, sky, and parts of the property washed out of their color. Owen takes a picture of the house with her camera and the same thing happens. Vree is convinced her camera is damaged until Owen photographs the house with a different camera. Those pictures look fine.

Something is wrong with the house!

Owen tells her that a witch used to live in the house until she died. (See my last post, “Searching for Gems in Backstory.”) This sets in motion the idea that Vree lives in a haunted house. Her parents cannot explain the odd photos other than either mechanical or battery failure caused it, and they promise her that the last owner was not a witch and the house is not haunted.

Feeling alone, she turns to Owen. And so begins their friendship through the thick and thin phenomena of my favorite subject to write about: Fantasy, with many of its sub-genres, including magic, the paranormal, and the supernatural at its forefront.

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.

# # #

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.

*