Ravenwood’s Direction [writing news]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay tuned. Answers come forthwith.

Bringing Back Ravenwood [writing news]

I spent today planning on paper what I’m going to do with my blog. I have been absent from it for several weeks, so I want to remedy that by posting more often.

The first thing I did was bring back an old page to the Writing Blog section in the Menu. It’s called “Ravenwood” and it houses links to many of my old Ravenwood posts that ran from 2011 to 2012. Ravenwood was the original name of the town that became Ridgewood. I’m thinking of changing Ridgewood back to Ravenwood. It’s just a thought, but I’m drawn to the name Ravenwood again.

If you have never read my Ravenwood stories, you can do so by going to its menu and clicking on the chapters. Here is a quick link for those of you who aren’t at my website.

I made another change to the Menu by moving News ~ Updates to a subheading under the About heading.

This post will be included in that section.

Finally, I plan to return to those Ravenwood posts and talk more about them during the year. I want to analyze again the direction I was going in with those stories.

Stay tuned. I feel it’s going to be an exciting year at this blog.

Ravenwood Revisited, Part 4 [fiction]

Revealing the Dragon.

Around us in air, water, land and fire, there are realms that for the most part go unseen by many. These strange and fascinating worlds exist beyond the fabric of our periphery, dwelling within the wilds of every race and culture, and revealed by the greatest unknown, to them with minds utterly open.


The Story Not Written.

Kinsey Avery (her names translate to “victorious elf ruler”) is 14 and lives at Alice Lake with her maternal grandparents John and Evelyn Lybrook. She has dark brown eyes and hair, is 5’ 4”, and is a typical American teen who wears T-shirts, shorts and sandals or tennis shoes in summer, and sweat clothes in winter. She isn’t much of a blue jeans girl, or even one to wear a swimsuit during summertime like other lake girls, though she does wears them … occasionally.

Kinsey is one of a rare few who can see the spiritual warfare underlying the events in Ravenwood. Unbeknownst to her and others, she is gifted with magical powers bequeathed to her from an angelus (spirit angel) that possessed her while she was an embryo. Her mother, a scientist and researcher living in Germany, gave birth to her there. While growing up under the watchful eye of a nanny, a car struck and killed Kinsey’s nanny when Kinsey was 5. At that age, she thought the woman’s death was temporary. But as she grew older and came to understand the finality of death, she began to have nightmares about the accident and of death itself. At 8, she withdrew emotionally, isolating herself from people and daily activities. Her mother took leave from work and raised Kinsey for two years, taking her to a psychiatrist. During that time, she spoke only to her maternal grandmother, Evelyn, during phone conversations. The two bonded and Kinsey spent the summer living with John and Evelyn. The stay became longer when her parents went to Antarctica for scientific study during the summer months there (wintertime at Alice Lake and the rest of North America). At Alice Lake, Kinsey was befriended by Drengwyn (Dreng means “warrior” and wyn means “friend”), a six-inch blue-green water sprite, and by Deogorand (Deogol means “secret” and rand means “shield”), an ethereal and black and white piebald eagle-like creature with black wings whose origins are initially unknown. Together, along with a magic spell by Drengwyn, they helped ease Kinsey’s fear of death and made life magical and fun.

Kinsey’s parents returned to Germany for six months, and then opted for a yearlong stay in Antarctica. During this time, after she turned 12, Kinsey began to see Fyrenattors (Fyren means “wicked” and attor means “venom”)—ethereal and shadowy snake-like creatures all twisted, ugly, and full of bitterness. Fyrenattors invade people’s homes, attach themselves to their victims’ backs like leeches, feed and multiply on negative emotions, and turn from yellow to blue as they feed. They may kill their victims by using mind control to lead them to water and drown them, or, in the case of fully fed Fyrenattors that have turned dark blue, inject venom with their fangs.

Note: Ethereal beings, according to some belief systems and occult theories, are mystic entities that usually are not made of ordinary matter. And although they are essentially incorporeal, they do interact in physical shapes with the material universe and travel between the mystical and the everyday world. Given the lack of scientific evidence of their existence, science does not acknowledge as factual, though paranormal researchers and psychics claim them as real.

Because Kinsey can see them, Fyrenattors are wary of her. She chose to guard the nearby water park and its surrounding wilderness, a regional spawning ground for Fyrenattors. Though she spoke to her grandparents about these invisible creatures, John and Evelyn believe she has an overactive imagination. Kinsey accepted their disbelief and continued her role as protector, aided by Drengwyn. Deogorand, who appears at opportune moments to protect her from danger, also aids Kinsey.

Another creature that hunts Alice Lake is the Boreogra, a hairy, powerful magic fish- and beast-like creature that lives at the bottom of Alice Lake; known for coming to land at night during a new moon and devouring people, often anglers and campers. The Boreogra looks like a water buffalo with horns that grow from its head and from a crocodile-length snout full of sharp teeth. Gills/operculum in its neck helps it to breathe underwater, webbed hooves help it to swim, and dorsal and pectoral fins help it maneuver. Bore is derived from the drilling tool; “its horns are shaped like bores,” and ogre, which is a giant or monster in legends and fairy tales who eats humans. Note: I borrowed the word Bore from The Wheel of Time books, epic fantasy novels written by American author Robert Jordan (a pen name of James Oliver Rigney, Jr.). The Bore is a pathway that allows the Dark One to reach out into the physical world.

Kinsey’s troubles begin on the night of July first when 14-year-old Dave Everly (Kinsey’s neighbor at Alice Lake) awakens from a nightmare. He goes to his kitchen and drinks a glass of milk. There he sees that he forgot to take out the garbage after supper, so he carries out the bag while in his bathrobe and slippers. Outside, he sees his 9-year-old neighbor Trixie Clark sneaking from her home next door. It is late, so he follows her. He takes no flashlight, so he loses her in the darkness. She is running away from an abusive father who beat her earlier that night. She hears Dave calling her name and thinks it is her father. She hides under the bridge that crosses Myers Creek while Dave heads down a side street where one of her friends lives. Beneath the bridge, unseen creatures called Fyrenattors attack the girl.

Meanwhile, Drengwyn awakens Kinsey and informs her that Trixie has run away from home and is at Myers Creek where Fyrenattors are attacking her. Kinsey hurries to the site and fights with magic to rescue Trixie, but a Fyrenattor drowns the girl. Kinsey is almost overrun by Fyrenattors until Deogorand appears, fending them off and then driving them to Alice Lake. Kinsey pulls Trixie’s body from the creek and calls her grandfather for help.

Unbeknownst to Kinsey and most of the other populace at the lake, a demon named Keir Severin came to Ravenwood earlier that day in search of “a girl there with strong magic.” His magic is limited and mostly allows him the ability to influence people’s thoughts. Note: Keir Severin (both names mean “dark” and “severe”) is an ageless demon inhabiting a human male body. In human form, he wants to be his own man—to have fun and make his own rules as he goes along. He sees the mortal world as a joy-kill, filled with bosses and other authority figures who want riches and to take fun out of life. He believes he is special and above all laws—both man-made and universal, including the ones that govern the realm of his current existence. He is attractive and someone who genuinely loves mortal women. They captivate him. He can read their thoughts and pretend to understand them and be committed to their desires and needs. He loves everything about women, but never views them (or any mortal) as equal or better than himself. And women love him—his free spirit is an inspiration. He encourages women to be strong, tough and sensual. Many are forever changed by his friendship and often leave bad relationships because of the strength he gives them. He’s a best friend to them. He transforms them into strong beings with higher self-esteem. All women are beautiful to him, and he tells them so often. Beneath it all, he refuses to commit to any one woman. This is when most women realize he was only the catalyst to find their inner strength, and they don’t need him to feel complete.

Keir’s utmost motivation, however, is to destroy Kinsey and take her magic. He knows how powerful she is and he wants that power for himself. To get close, he befriended Morris Clark (Trixie’s father) earlier, a local roof repairer and alcoholic. Keir influenced him to let him stay in the guest room of his home. That evening, he overpowered the mind of Morris’s 15-year-old son, Jayden and placed the boy in a long and deep sleep for the night. Then he placed in Morris’s mind the idea of beating Trixie for talking back. Prior to that, he placed in Trixie’s mind the idea to run away if ever her father was mean to her again.

After the beating, Keir erased Morris’s memory and powered him into a sleeping spell. As Trixie ran off, he mustered all his energy and transported himself to Myers Creek where he stirred the Fyrenattors with the little magic he had left. He enticed the creatures to attack Trixie, hoping that it would lure the girl with the powerful magic (Kinsey) outdoors. It did and he watched in the shadows while she and Deogorand fought off the Fyrenattors.

The following morning, Kinsey’s grandmother Evelyn talks to her about Trixie Clark’s death. She knows that at 14, Kinsey still has an occasional nightmare about death. But Kinsey feels strongly about life and all the drownings caused by the Fyrenattors—more strongly than she cares for her own safety. Kinsey would not hesitate to come to the aid of another person no matter the risk to herself. And Evelyn knows that Kinsey’s friendship with Drengwyn is the most important relationship she has. That she spends as much time in nature as possible and the solitude of walking at night concerns Evelyn. She tells Kinsey to be careful. Kinsey explains that walking in the crisp night air brings her back into balance, and with Drengwyn at her side, she is never afraid of being out at night.

Kinsey is an “earth mother” of sorts, taking up the causes of recycling and protecting the earth’s resources. While out collecting litter from areas near the lake, she meets up with her friends Jayden Clark (Trixie’s older brother and whom she has a crush on), Brody Penley, and Amy Everly. She tells Jayden how sorry she is for his loss; he asks if she and her grandmother are coming to the church service for Trixie that afternoon. She says yes and he leaves. Soon, they run into a teen bully named Mick Weed, and Kinsey uses magic to knock him to the ground to protect her friends.

Later that day after lunch, an alarmed Drengwyn leads Kinsey to a spot on Alice Lake where, upon diving, they find a pile of glowing rocks at the bottom. According to Drengwyn, an ancient civilization put the rocks there over two thousand years ago to imprison a terrible creature. Soon after, a plague killed the ancients, as well as all of Drengwyn’s people. She is the sole survivor and considers it her responsibility to watch over the quartz-containing geodes held strong by a magic spell cast by her own kind. She tells Kinsey that the creature imprisoned inside is a powerful magic beast called a Boreogra, known for coming to land at night and devouring multitudes of people. Now, something is draining the magic spell’s power and the Boreogra is threatening to break free. With Drengwyn’s help, Kinsey uses her own magic to strengthen the prison’s integrity.

Drengwyn describes the Boreogra as a type of aquatic water buffalo with horns that grow from its head and from a crocodile-length snout full of sharp teeth. An ancient magic protects it well—nothing can kill it except an even older magic. Before the ancients imprisoned the Boreogra to Alice Lake and its shores, it was both a land and water dweller and consumed both plants and meat. As a carnivore, its sharp teeth and horns made it a gruesome killer of human beings. As an intelligent creature, it was not satisfied with merely eating humans but loved hunting them relentlessly at night, preferring to attack in darkness during a new moon, and then slaying and devouring its prey before swimming off at sunrise, spending the day sleeping at the bottom of Alice Lake. It breathes underwater through gill-like structures on either side of its neck, and can dwell in any body of water in any climate. Other Boreogras dwell worldwide, though they are not imprisoned. This Boreogra survives off protein found in the lake’s mud and silt floor.

Other features of the Boreogra are yellowish sharp teeth and horns, a muscular and heavy-set body, though very agile, and hooves with webbing between each claw. Its snout is crocodile-like and its mouth large. Its eyes are small and beady and glow like bluish green lanterns. It is hairy, though its belly has fishlike scales, and giant warts protrude from the hair covering its back.

Meanwhile, a brooding Dave Everly can be distant for days at a time, so his parents are enforcing rules and regulations that he spend time outdoors, thereby giving up his isolated lifestyle. Sunni, his mother, orders him to go outside and “get some sunlight.” He rides his bike on a walkway built along the shore of the lake, and sees Kinsey dive from her boat. When she stays underwater for longer than five minutes, he is afraid that she has drowned. He calls 911, then dives into the lake and swims toward Kinsey’s boat. An unseen force (a Fyrenattor) pulls him underwater. Miraculously, he gets away (not knowing what happened) and swims ashore when rescue arrives. They see Kinsey is alive as she speeds her boat toward shore. Embarrassed, Dave dresses and rides off. Later, at Trixie’s church service, he tries speaking to Kinsey but a powerful feeling of alarm and dread overwhelms her. Keir Severin is there and Dave recognizes the man from his last nightmare. He follows Kinsey outside where he tells her about his last dream, in which he fought with a man who looked like Keir. The man bested him and told him to “stay away from the girl with the powerful magic.”

Kinsey recognizes that she’s the girl mentioned in Dave’s dream, but she says nothing until he asks her how she was able to stay underwater for ten minutes without coming up for air. She is torn to tell him until Drengwyn—who is there to tell Kinsey that the spell isn’t holding—falls from her perch where she was eavesdropping. Kinsey then tells Dave (who has never seen a water sprite before) the story about the imprisoned Boreogra and how she had used magic to try to strengthen the creature’s prison. Just as she finishes, she feels alarm and dread reaching out to her. As Keir approaches, she runs off.

That evening, Kinsey sneaks out after dark to a prearranged meeting with Jayden Clark. Morris, who is outside with Keir Severin, catches them kissing and grounds his son, but not after striking him. Kinsey comes face to face with Keir and runs home afraid.

The next day, July 3, after Trixie Clark’s showing and quick funeral service at the local cemetery, Kinsey attends a church picnic at the lake with her grandmother and finds the Fyrenattors crawling from the lake, invisible to the others. Deogorand, also invisible to the others, appears and scares them off. The Fyrenattors have never entered on land before sunset, and Kinsey realizes that Keir Severin must be nearby, though she feels no alarm or dread as she did at the church. Because of this, Keir easily confronts her in the parking lot, threatens her, and demonstrates his increasing magic abilities by killing a church member by stopping her heart. He taunts Kinsey, telling her he can do anything he wants to her and her magic is powerless to stop him.

Later, a drunken Morris Clark confronts Kinsey’s grandmother, Evelyn, alone at the Lybrook house. He is upset that he has memory lapses and he is certain it has something to do with Kinsey. Evelyn protects herself with a shotgun when Morris advances, using it to wound him in the leg. He flees and she calls the police. They find Jayden Clark beaten and in a coma at the Clark house.

Morris uses his boat to row across the lake to hide out in his hunting cabin in the woods. When he reaches the other side, Keir Severin is waiting. Morris attacks him with an oar and is killed by magic. Keir rows to the middle of the lake and dumps Morris’s body overboard. Then he captures Drengwyn who is busy observing the fracturing of the Boreogra’s prison.

Meanwhile, Dave wants to know more about the Boreogra, a species not found on the Internet. He seeks out Kinsey, pursuing the mysterious pretty neighbor girl who has captured his interest (as well as his heart). Wanting to know everything about her, he becomes inquisitive to the point of driving Kinsey crazy. Then, taking on the role of an intellectual, he tries to manipulate her into doing what he would do if he were she. He uses questions such as “Well did you think about this…?” to throw doubt at her, implying she needs his help to save the Boreogra. He tells her that she must fine-tune her magic’s frequency to match the magic that keeps the monster inside its prison. If not, her magic could further weaken the power of the original magic.

At first, Kinsey welcomes Dave’s questions and caution as helpful, but he causes conflict for her by:

(1) Constantly throwing questions at her every decision, thereby slowing down her progress, and

(2) sapping so much of her energy by pulling her in different directions, e.g., she makes a decision and then he keeps making her run around in circles, changing her mind back and forth over it. When she realizes what Dave is doing, she becomes angry.

Certain that he is wrong—what does he know about the subject?—she tells him that she feels Keir Severin is responsible for the drain of magic at the prison. And she points out rather haughtily that Drengwyn will figure out a way to keep the Boreogra inside its prison.

Personality note: When stressed, Kinsey can be very opinionated and thickheaded—puts blinders on; everything but the goal at hand is forgotten. She can be irrational because of her need to win at all costs. She can be boastful. And she may take on the traits of her aggressors to feel equal to them.

“My magic is strong enough to keep the Boreogra imprisoned,” she tells Dave, then takes him to the site to prove it. However, when they get there, the prison is empty. On the way back, the Boreogra attacks from underwater and overturns their boat. Kinsey uses her magic to save Dave’s life.

As the threat of the dangers become clear to him, Dave feels like the whole world is at stake and Kinsey owes it to everyone to be sure about her actions and decisions. On shore, he tells her that the safety of the town’s residents depends solely on her. Annoyed by being told what to do, Kinsey tells him to leave her alone.

Personality note: Internally, Dave is developing a stronger drive toward the opposite sex, which makes him feel awkward when he is around Kinsey. He is afraid of his emotions about sex and the strong attraction he has to her, so when she dismisses him, he feels heartbroken and demoralized. He withdraws inside his bedroom, becomes antisocial and doesn’t care how his actions affect his family.

Meanwhile, Kinsey discovers Drengwyn missing. At home, she prepares to face the Boreogra after dark when he will come ashore looking for humans to kill. While at rest, she feels her magic power increasing inside her. During this time, Evelyn asks her why she won’t trust others to help her, and goes on to say “Growth comes from those who can teach.”

That evening, before Kinsey heads out, Evelyn cautions her with “Do not enjoy your magic world too much to seek relationships.”

At the lake, Kinsey is able to muster enough magic to defeat the creature. But it leaves her weak and she must flee from the Fyrenattors.

During this time, Dave is still angry and hurt. He has an argument with his mother about getting out of the house and “getting some fresh air.” Feeling wounded, he is willing (perhaps a bit too eagerly) to argue with others without regard to their feelings. His attitude toward Kinsey now is scornful and mocking.

Meanwhile, Keir Severin hears from the Fyrenattors that Kinsey’s magic is weak, so he goes to confront her at home. Along the way, he senses Dave’s black mood.

Dave, who has stormed out of the house, attracts the attention of Keir Severin who enters his mind and tempts him to go to the other side and experiment with dark magic to gain power over Kinsey. He controls the boy’s mind and leads him to overpower and tie up Kinsey’s grandmother when she tries to intervene. Keir then confronts Kinsey when she returns home, and he teaches her of her past. Kinsey learns/remembers that Keir bewitched and impregnated her first mother in Germany and bore him a daughter, Diana Engel (which means heavenly angel. Diana is derived from an old Indo-European root meaning “heavenly, divine” and is related to the old Indo-European god Dyeus. Diana was a Roman goddess of the moon, hunting, forests, and childbirth, often identified with the Greek goddess Artemis, goddess of the moon and hunting, the twin of Apollo and the daughter of Zeus and Leto. She was known as Diana to the Romans.).

Note: Diana Engel was born on August 27 (Julian calendar) or September 6 (Gregorian calendar), 1634, at the start of the Battle of Nördlingen (Schlacht bei Nördlingen) during the Thirty Years’ War. Diana was part demon and part human, and she regenerated/incarnated her demon self when her mortal self died and her demon essence inhabit a nearby unborn child. Her last regeneration/reincarnation inhabited an embryo possessed by an angelus (spirit angel)—a messenger sent to Earth every 400 years. (The angelus takes human form and leads humankind closer to righteousness.) The demon and angelus intertwined inside Kinsey, and now, part demon and angel, she possesses great power. Keir, who spawned Diana who became Kinsey, desires to have her power. He works with no help from other demons (he is a lone wolf), so he enlists the help from vulnerable humans.

Keir reveals that he wants Kinsey to reconcile with him—“To be father and daughter and govern the Earth”—but she refuses. During the ensuing battle, he accidentally wounds Dave. Kinsey holds Keir at bay with her magic for a time, but when he is about to kill Evelyn, Deogorand rushes forth and knocks aside Keir. Kinsey takes advantage of the distraction and kills Keir in a sudden surge of hatred and hostility—aggressive, erratic and reckless behavior. Blind with fury, her rage is swift and it knocks her off her feet. As she falls, Deogorand flies away and she loses her magic ability.

With Keir Severin dead, the spell Dave was under disappears, and he sees Kinsey at her lowest. He chooses to cast aside his anger, go to her, and console her, but she storms out and searches in vain for her missing Drengwyn, whom Keir had captured at the lake. She collapses at their favorite spot near the lake as fireworks explode over the lake. In the explosions, she sees that she fought fire with fire and defeated her enemy, but lost her magic because she chose to let rage and the demon part of her control her actions. She would have sacrificed herself to get to her enemy. Instead, she sacrificed her goodness—her angelus magic.

During her lowest point, Fyrenattors attack her. Powerless, she is chased away and returns home to find that her grandmother has dressed Dave’s wounds. She embraces him and apologizes, then goes to bed.

The next day is the Fourth of July, and Kinsey still feels lost. She spends the day with her grandmother, but goes nowhere beyond the house. Dave visits her that night and they watch more fireworks over the lake.

The following day, July 5, Jayden comes out of his coma. His mother, Cecilia (called home by Sunni Everly and other concerned neighbors) is at his bedside, and is there with other relatives. When Kinsey arrives at Ravenwood Hospital, a nurse informs her that Jayden has too many visitors. Unwilling to imposition Jayden’s family, she leaves and Evelyn drives her home. Her friends invite her to swim at the lake. She goes, but is reticent.

Later, after her friends go home and she is lying alone on the beach, invisible forces accost her by dragging her into the lake and pressing her underwater. She knows the Fyrenattors are trying to drown her. Somehow, they are able to attack during the day now, and she has no magic to fight them. As they drag her out to deeper water, she is convinced that she will die.

Suddenly, she sees a gleaming Deogorand—a white creature now with no markings whatsoever—break the water’s surface. It plows its way into her sternum, fills her with bright light until once again angelus magic fills her. She destroys the evil creatures and swims ashore. As she heads for home, running and calling for her grandmother, she hears Drengwyn calling for her. She finds the water sprite captive in a weighted drinking glass inside the Clark house.

At her grandparents’ home, Dave sits on the porch with her grandmother. Though Evelyn cannot see the sprite, Dave can. “You have a gift of sight,” Drengwyn tells him. (Note: Until then, Dave has seen only ghosts.) Evelyn explains that the attack from Keir Severin’s magic may have sparked Dave’s own magic, and that everyone has magic in them to some degree.

Later that night, Kinsey falls asleep, aware of her past and anticipating her future.

Save

Save

Save

Ravenwood Revisited, Part 3 [fiction]

Revealing the Dragon.

The beautiful and single Lisa Franklin revealed to him that she was merely a Sunday painter. Still, he gushed uncontrollably about art and favorite artists. Somehow, he managed to impress her enough to exchange deliberations about society’s perception of artists in the twenty-first century. Spinning merry fancy inside his overactive mind, he barely heard her when she offered to share a weekend outing to the countryside to paint a particular lakeside landscape she had seen during her move to Ravenwood. He nearly hugged her before thoughts of Nancy pulled his arms down and caused him to take a step back.


Alice Lake.

Like Myers Ridge, Alice Lake is center stage for many of my stories because of its eerie history dating back to when it was called Lac Petit-Miroir (which means “Little Mirror Lake”). It seems there was UFO activity at the lake during 1745 to 1747. Eyewitnesses claimed of seeing strange lights gather over the center of the lake at midnight, then whirl like “dust devils” and “water spouts” for several minutes before vanishing into the lake. The activity stopped after the 1747 incident described by Ezekiel Wood.

Lac Petit-Miroir was renamed in 1863 and its name is attributed to Alice Myers, wife of the lake community’s mayor George Myers. (Alice is paternal grandmother to Joseph Myers who once lived on Myers Ridge. Joseph is a ghost who appears in my stories.) The community held the stature of being its own municipality, complete with a town hall and post office until fire destroyed most of the town in 1955. It merged with Ravenwood in 1957.

Alice Lake is a spring fed glacier-made lake one-half mile wide and a little more than one mile long, 9 acres, and with an average depth of 30 feet along a kettle bottom with holes as deep as 50+ feet. It is at the southern end of Ravenwood and is a popular spot for vacationers (many from Pittsburgh). Surrounded by about 750 private homes and cottages, the lake is picturesque with its quaint cottages and beautiful homes. Visitors can rent rooms anytime at Richard and Melissa Bay’s Bed & Breakfast—a charming and spacious Folk Victorian home. They can tour the Alice Myers Museum—a colorful Gothic Revival House—every Tuesday through Saturday and acquaint themselves with the lake’s namesake. They can browse Ellen Waverly’s art gallery and buy excellent local artwork. And they can shop nearly every day at the several specialty gift shops, which sell a mix of country and Victorian knickknacks. Antiques are also a specialty, and Johnson’s Antiques and Auction is less than a mile away at downtown Ravenwood.

The Pennsylvania Fish Commission maintains the lake and its three public boat launches. The lake is used recreationally for swimming, fishing and boating. There are boats and canoes to rent at McGuire’s Boating, Fishing and Hunting, which is open year-round. For the angler, Alice Lake is stocked with pan fish, bluegill, perch, sunfish, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, and small and large mouth bass. For the hunter, the area is bordered by many public game lands.

In the winter, Alice Lake is widely used for ice fishing. Although many of the roads winding around the lake are dirt or gravel, the State maintains them well. Other winter activities include snowmobiling sponsored by the lake park’s Recreation Hall. The entertainment hall has a 24-lane bowling alley and a heated indoor swimming pool.

During the summer, there are fishing contests and kayaking, sailing and canoe rowing races on the lake, go-cart racing and miniature golf at the Recreation Hall, and a fireworks show on the lake every Fourth of July.

Tourists and locals can sip wine coolers and dip lobster in drawn butter on the patio at the Mill Pond Restaurant at the south side of the lake while kids swim and slide down the fabulous water slide into the lake. Or they can have great pizza—homemade and hand stretched—and subs and calzones any day of the year at Connie’s Pizzeria.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are inexpensive pleasures at The Roundhouse (aka The Roundabout). Once the lake’s roller rink, it was converted into a restaurant and dining hall after fire nearly destroyed the building in 1966. The place hosts dances and live music every Saturday night from June until the end of September.

The south side of Alice Lake comprises an Amish community, so it is common to see Amish buggies traveling the lake roads no matter the time of year.

But as I mentioned, Alice Lake has an eerie history—its charming quaintness hides an undercurrent of dark affairs, which investigation revealed to me when I researched the place for a story about a magical girl named Kinsey Avery and a demon named Keir Severin.

Save

Ravenwood Revisited, Part 2 [fiction]

Revealing the Dragon.

They had met in August at Ravenwood High School while he was preparing the art room for another year of teaching. She was the new English teacher and had been touring the maze-like building with an entourage from the welcoming committee when she walked into his room and sent him back to when he had been a fumbling adolescent with a heart-skipping crush on her.


Ravenwood is based on my Pennsylvania hometown and a nearby lake. I butted the two places together to form one municipality. Ravenwood is located somewhere in western Pennsylvania, more than a hundred miles north of Pittsburgh and at least twenty miles west of the Allegheny River.

In 1702, long before the municipality was officially named Ravenwood, French fur hunters and trappers constructed the village Amity as a trading post and traded with Native Americans and settlers migrating west along the Allegheny valley. Amity remained a trading post until 1747.

Myers County was then formed from parts of Allegheny County on March 12, 1800. In 1829, one Frank Wood renamed Amity to Raven Wood after his mother’s lineage: Raven, and his father’s lineage: Wood.

Raven Wood grew into a sizable railroad town when oil was discovered in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1859. On May 27, 1861, tracks owned by the Atlantic and Great Western Railroad intersected with those of the Sunbury and Erie Railroad and was called the “Atlantic and Erie Junction.” Land at the junction was owned by Frank Wood, who sold a portion to the Atlantic and Great Western in October 1861. The railroad constructed a ticket office at the junction and, through a misspelling, it became Ravenwood.

The combination of railroad growth and the discovery of oil in northwestern Pennsylvania contributed greatly to Ravenwood’s development. The town went from a population of six hundred in 1861 to nine thousand in less than six months. Many surrounding forests were stripped of almost all of their valuable hardwood. Mills and farms sprang up on almost every conceivable spot.

This boomtown was chartered as a borough in 1863 and designated as a city in 1865.

Myers Ridge.

His wife Nancy returned to the house that night, drifting from room to room looking for a locket she had left behind. He did not tell her about Lisa and offered no conversation to her during her visit. She asked him if he missed her. He told her yes, but he realized his love for Lisa had broken the bond of husband and wife that had stayed with him since Nancy’s death almost ten years ago. He pretended to grade school work as she searched the house. When she found the locket, she left him and the house as silently as she came.


Myers Ridge is an end moraine, which is a ridge of unconsolidated debris deposited at the snout or end of a glacier during an ice age. Pushed into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago, Myers Ridge is being destroyed by erosion. It is now a craggy remnant of the mountain it was those thousands of years ago. Its limestone bowels of tunnels and caves are eroding and caving in, making topside areas dangerous places to live and travel on. Its once populated farm community has almost disappeared. Developers from New Cambridge (a city north of Ravenwood) tried to put in a ski slope in 1975 and 1983, but citizens familiar with the hill know the area is populated with sinkholes—the kind of thing people don’t want to be falling into while skiing. Both attempts were abandoned and the ridge remains a hill of mostly woods and derelict farmland.

Myers Ridge is center stage for many of my stories because of its eerie history dating back to when it was called Haute Colline (French for “high hill”). It seems there may have been UFO activity during 1745 to 1747. Eyewitnesses claimed of seeing strange lights traveling the hill during the darkest nights. Many reports said those lights left the hill and gathered at midnight over the center of Lac Petit-Miroir (Alice Lake), then whirled like “dust devils” for several minutes before they vanished into the lake.

This phenomenon continued for two years until another unexplained event—this one vicious and horrifying—befell Amity (now named Ravenwood) on the night of July 7, 1747 when the lights swarmed over the town, hovered in the sky for an hour, then exploded into flame that vanished into thick ash that settled upon the town like tarry soot.

The lights were never seen again after that night. However, fever, madness and death seized most of the three-hundred-and-fifty townspeople for the next five days. Many of the afflicted suffered slow, agonizing deaths. Of the few who lived outside of town and were not afflicted, one was 19-year-old Ezekiel Wood. He recorded a grisly account about a fur trader who murdered his wife and two children while they slept, and then stuffed their corpses inside the belly of a slaughtered cow. Ezekiel also wrote of madmen setting fire to the town. Nearly all the homes destroyed had both dead and living inside. Ezekiel, who was attending the sick, managed to escape the inferno by submerging himself in the local river. He was the only known survivor of the blaze, and he became great-grandfather to Ravenwood founder, Frank Wood.

Fifty-four years later, the ridge received its official name in 1801 when Jonah Myers purchased the property from the state. Jonah Myers and his family were sheep and goat farmers during a time when the wool industry was strong and the farms there were stately oak and marble buildings. (Some of those buildings still stand, though the state has sold much of the land to corporations and developers.)

In 1891, Jonah’s great-grandson Norman Myers found gold and other precious metals on his property. He and his family hauled out ores, became wealthy, and occasionally squabbled over mining rights until, according to legend, Norman’s mines dried up in 1901, on the very anniversary of his discovery. Soon afterwards, Norman disappeared. Some suspected James McCoy, an angry business partner murdered him inside one of his three abandoned mines. Since no body was ever found, McCoy was never charged. He left town a year later and family claimed to see Norman’s ghost haunting the hill that very night. To this day, some people claim that his ghost guards a secret treasure, while others say he haunts the hill until his body is found and given a proper burial. His mines have since collapsed and the property bequeathed to the county by the few and scattered surviving heirs in lieu of payment of delinquent taxes and bank loans owed by Norman. In 1971, the Ravenwood Historical Society purchased the only standing entrance to one of the mines and turned it into a monument. They also purchased Jonah Myers’s home.

The tale of Norman Myers is not the only ghost story to come out of Myers Ridge. Norman’s only son Joseph Myers was a famous playwright who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood. He and his wife Emma “mysteriously disappeared” from their estate on Myers Ridge. There have been sightings of Joseph’s ghost at the site of his old mansion.

Save

Ravenwood Revisited, Part 1 [fiction]

It has been a month since my last post, so I am breaking my silence to let you know I’m returning to Ravenwood to catch glimpses of things missed during my last visit, which I reported here in 2011 and 2012. There may be some retelling of past events, either little or lots, with each visit. But over all, I hope to make discoveries and give you new insights about the fictional place that first obsessed me when I was a teenager with a dream of becoming an author.

Testimony.

Ravenwood is a story. It is as simple as that. And I suppose you could call it my story—which it is—but not because I chose it, but because it chose me. Stories do that to writers. They disturb our dreams and keep us awake at nights, calling out to us: “Write me.”

Ravenwood is a story about people … real people in fantastical events. Therefore, it is not my intention to persuade anyone into believing anything in this explication. For the most part, I am merely a scribe—a reporter of things, and being as honest as any chronicler can be, no matter how well (or poorly) the events are draped and stitched together. But therein dwells the problem of recording tales as fantastic as Ravenwood. I am also a weaver and tailor of poetry, dressing events with words that are impressive with grandiose gesturing, or humble in their tatters and patches, or imitations of belletristic celebrities that fall somewhere in between.

Beyond the drapery, however, Ravenwood is a real place, situated around the Allegheny River Valley in northwest Pennsylvania and southwest New York, and composed of the people and places I see when I look outside. But Ravenwood could be the people and places outside your own windows and doors where I know if you go searching and dig long enough, you will find a skeleton or two wearing the very cloth of this tale.

Ghost Lights [fiction]

© 2002 by Steven L Campbell.
(Approximately 1,600 words.)

I write this alone somewhere within the outer bowels of Myers Ridge. I hope that I will survive to get this to the proper hands for publication. And as implausible and of unsound mind as it will seem, what I am about to write is true.

Myers Ridge is haunted.

I made that claim thirty years in my last book about Myers Ridge: “Ghosts of Myers County.” I was twenty-seven when I wrote about the supernatural events around my hometown of Ravenwood, Pennsylvania, citing references to stories from the town’s newspaper and the Myers County Historical association, and investigating the contributions of dozens of friends. Little has changed since that book’s publication. Things still go bump in the night. Strange lights and noises are reported from Myers Ridge and Ten Mile Swamp, and every five years or so someone mysteriously disappears from one of those areas.

Myers Ridge is a large hill outside of town known for its caves, abandoned mines, and cozy hillside where teenagers park with their dates. It isn’t as popular as it used to be and the state has been slowly selling the land for its timber. A Michigan businessman named Mort Jacobs recently purchased parts of the south side and put in some ski slopes and a lodge there. But those of us familiar with the hill know that the area is populated with sinkholes—the kind of thing you don’t want to be falling into while skiing down a five-mile slope.

Also plaguing the hill are the mysterious lights seen at night. Local legends call them will-o-wisps, jack-o-lanterns, and phantom orbs. Earth scientists claim they are luminous protean clouds rising from deep within the hill. However, eyewitnesses allege that these glowing clouds sometimes emit arrays of flickering hypnotic strobes of lights, causing confusion among both people and animals who witness them.

Long before Ravenwood was founded by settlers, the Seneca people living along the fertile lands below Myers Ridge knew well of the event and spoke of it within their oratory, which was later recorded to text by early settlers. The Seneca knew never to look at the lights lest the lights dislocate the mind from the spirit and cause the victim to live the rest of his or her days tormented and mad.

The first recorded casualty made by a white settler was in 1702 when, upon viewing the strange lights, he killed his wife and children and stuffed them in the belly of a slaughtered cow.

Nothing more is mentioned about the lights until 1852 when some miners looking for gold allegedly stumbled upon the lights and went crazy. One survivor, an Irish fellow named O’Grady, claimed the hill was cursed by Goblins, Trolls, and Boggarts.

In 1901, Myers Ridge was officially named after landowner, Norman Myers who helped survey and map the area during the building of a railroad through Ravenwood. Myers discovered gold in the deforested hill in 1901, and immediately miners hauled out ores and precious metals. In a dash to become rich, miners squabbled and fought over land rights until a sighting of strange lights on the hill caused over seventy men to lose their minds.

That year, Myers disappeared. Soon, reports to law officials stated that his ghost was haunting the lower parts of the hill, and that his spirit was searching for his murdered body inside one of the many abandoned mines.

Reports, however infrequent, about the mysterious lights that cause victims to go insane also continued. These sightings are on public record and cause me anxiety when I go to Myers Ridge. How does one debunk the allegations made by our town’s founding fathers?

Reports about the lights and Myers’s ghost continue today, although our police force no longer fields those calls. Those calls come to me. Once in a while, some hiker or camper claims to see Myers’s ghost. Even my father says he saw the ghost while hiking the hills with his Boy Scouts’ troop. I have never been as fortunate, and with so much land becoming private property over the years, I believed my chances of ever seeing Myers dwindled with the addition of every new fence line. Then I received a telephone call that finally gave me a chance to see the famous poltergeist myself.

The call came from Melissa Laine, the town’s art gallery director who wanted me to see a piece of coal that her father had left her. Curious, I went to her gallery and saw what appeared to be a copper coin protruding from the black rock. Melissa told me that she had sent a piece of the coal to the state’s university to be analyzed and that it had come back with a letter stating that it had been formed more than twelve million years ago.

I analyzed the coin, which looked like an American penny. Its exposed face and back were worn, but its edge had that familiar ridge caused by stamping. While I puzzled over the coin and wondered how it got there, Melissa told me that her father had given the coal to her the day before his death. He had told her that when he was a boy and during a visit to one of the old abandoned mines, Myers’s ghost appeared to him and gave it to him. Melissa never truly believed her father’s story until this past April when she happened upon my earlier book at the library.

We readied for a trip to Myers Ridge, and despite inclement weather, she directed me to the old coalmine. To the side of the mine we found a cave. The entrance was small but big enough to allow us to crawl inside. Our flashlights revealed a large vein filled with marble and limestone, and on the walls, white flower-like formations called cave pearls. Dripstones hung from the ceiling and white putty-like flowstone called moon milk covered the floor.

That was when I saw Myers’s ghost.

To write it now sends chills down my back, but it is a chilling event to stumble upon a ghost, even a friendly one.

My fear passed to a feeling of accomplishment. Melissa, however, remained frightened. When I finally shushed her, the ghost said to her, “Did your father like the gift I gave him?”

I knew he referred to the piece of coal. So did Melissa after a false start.

“Yes,” she finally said, forcing some calmness into her voice. “My father cherished it. When he died, he gave it to me.”

The spirit seemed pleased that Melissa now owned her father’s gift. I felt him leave us before I saw him disappear. At the spot where he had stood, a chunk of gold the size of a soccer ball sat upon the floor.

Upon inspection, I found the initials NWM carved in it, something miners did to mark their property. I must believe the initials stand for Norman Wesley Myers.

There was no possible way for us to carry out the gold, so we headed out into a downpour. We ran toward our cars when a wall of rain hit us. I turned to tell Melissa to stay with me when the ground suddenly sloped away. I fell and rolled along, almost free-falling at times before I was ejected from the hilltop.

I fell. I plummeted on my back and for a moment, I thought I was floating. Raindrops hung in the gray air all around me. Then my landing came abruptly and bristly, yet softer than I expected. Boughs of pine and spruce bent and broke as I tumbled from tree limb to tree limb. Branches snapped off in my hands as gravity pulled me down to a dry mattress of pine needles. Unable to breathe for moment, I gasped for air until my lungs and stomach hurt. When my breathing became normal, I closed my eyes and rested. I may have napped, for when I opened my eyes, the storm had lessened and evening had fallen.

I called for Melissa over the drizzle. No answer. Cold rain dripped on me through the towering canopy of pine and spruce branches stretched over me. I called again for Melissa and waited.

Still, I wait.

Six hours after my fall and further into the night I have tried to stand; my legs refuse to work. Pain knifes through my lower back and left hip. My left leg is numb and looks twisted. I am certain that it is broken.

I used pine branches to pull myself into a seated position so I can write. My backpack has given me food and drink as well.

The lights are out there beyond the trees. There are five of them. Are these the lights that have driven men insane?

I fear it to be so.

Over the past hour, one of the pulsating lights has moved within twenty yards from me. I have tried not to stare at it, but an attractive humming sound emits from its bluish white center.

I am going to turn off my flashlight for a while to see if the lights move away.

After ten minutes, the lights remain. The light closing in on me has not changed course. Its pleasant sound is difficult to ignore.

It sings to—

Dear God, I must have dozed—the light is upon me. It has overtaken the glow of my flashlight while I write this.

I pray that it is friendly.

I—

Ravenwood, Chapter 26 [fiction]

Stories, Part 3:

“Tell me another story,” I said to Vree. She was very good at it and I wanted to hear more.

“What would you like to hear?”

“Anything. You choose.”

“I have one about a witch named Emily Umberto. She wasn’t a bad witch, but she did a bad thing to a man named Morton Twitchel.”

“I know about a kid named Morty Twitchel,” I said, remembering my first visit to Ravenwood.

“I don’t think Morton and Morty are related. Morton wasn’t a very nice guy … especially to his mother.”

“I don’t think Morty was a nice guy, either, but go on with your story.”

She did:

Mort lived with his mother in a big farmhouse in the country. He owned a garage next to the barn behind the house where he worked on cars and trucks and sometimes tractors when he wasn’t milking his cows or growing and harvesting corn and hay. Something strange had happened outside his house the day the first snow fell. A white cloud appeared along the road not far from his house, and when vehicles passed through it, they stalled. And when they did, business at Mort’s garage was good.

One December evening, he sat in his lamp-lit sun porch, reading the evening newspaper chocked full of Christmas ads when he glanced up and saw a car pass through the cloud and continue past his house. He grinned. Then, “Ma,” he hollered toward the living room where she knitted in her rocking chair; “Hey, Ma, I’m going out. Be back later.”

“What about supper?” his mother called back.

“Keep it on the stove. I’ll eat when I get back.” He slipped on his coat and gloves.

“Pick me up some Pepsi…”

“I ain’t going to town—”

“…and some potato chips.”

Mort sagged against the storm door and shook his head, but his voice rose with his blood pressure. “I said I ain’t going to town, you stupid old cow. You never listen. Never ever. Just moo, moo, moo, like those heifers in the barn, all the time.” He bolted outdoors into December’s gelidity and fought to catch his breath. There, he fired up a Marlboro when the coughing jag subsided, and he felt his strength return after a deep drag from the cigarette.

His long, weak shadow followed him across the crunchy snow. The day’s timid sun had hurried to leave Ridgewood; the last minutes of daylight clutched the western sky. Somewhere, far away, that sun was high and hot and tanning pretty girls in bikinis.

Mort spat a brown hocker—cancer?—then pulled his capillary body into his big Ford tow truck and hurried from the driveway. He spotted the dead car past his house sooner than he expected. It was a fancy car, a silver Cutlass Supreme, no doubt circuited with the latest electronics. He parked in front of the stranded vehicle, then dropped to the ground and nearly fell when his knees almost buckled. He tossed away the cigarette and spat before he approached the car.

“Everything went dead,” a woman said. She stood outside her car in the waning daylight, her hands in the pockets of her white mink coat. Mort’s heart skipped a beat. The woman was young—late twenties, perhaps—and pretty. Strands of her long chestnut hair lifted in the cold breeze coming at her. She shivered, then said, “The car’s practically brand-new, and I just had it inspected last month.”

“It’s all good,” Mort said. He jerked a thumb at his tow truck. “I’ll get you back to my garage. Then I can get you up and running in no time. Meanwhile, you can ride with me.”

“I’d like that, Mr. …”

“Twitchel. Call me Mort.” He kept the smile on his face despite the cold picking at his dingy front teeth.

He returned to his truck, opened the passenger door, and helped the woman into the cab. When she was settled, he closed the door and spun, as much as his rickety ankles and knees would allow, and went to work getting the Oldsmobile fastened to his hitch. Then, on the way to his garage, he turned on the radio to avoid conversation. The radio played Christmas songs. Both were silent until Mort parked inside his spacious garage behind his mother’s lesser house.

“This shouldn’t take long,” he told the woman before he set the truck’s fan and heat at high so she could wait comfortably inside the cab. Then he went to work lowering the car and pretending to inspect the Nissan’s engine. He knew the car would start; they were far enough away from the strange cloud. And besides, the cloud never fried any circuits. But if he were to get any money out of this woman, he had to put on a convincing show.

“Mr. Twitchel,” she called out from the rolled-down window a few minutes later, “do you have any hot coffee?”

“This won’t take long.” He had forgotten to start the coffee pot in his office. His beverage of choice was the Budweiser in the garage fridge and anything on tap at the tavern a mile south.

“Won’t take long at all,” he said.

He went to his workbench and returned with some wrenches. Then he clacked them against each other from time to time under the hood while he pretended to fix the engine. He even sprawled his backside on a dolly and rolled beneath the car.

“Mr. Twitchel,” the woman called out again, “my watch must have stopped. Do you have the correct time?” She sounded restless, perhaps becoming impatient with his act. An unhappy customer could sour the deal. It was time to wrap things up.

“There’s a clock on the wall above my workbench.” He got up, wiped his hands on a rag from his jeans’ back pocket, then got into the car and turned the ignition. The Cutlass’s engine purred to life.

A large purse beckoned him to look inside it. A small white box, the kind with jewelry inside, caught his attention. He shook it and thought he heard the delicate rattle of a chain.

He hurried the box to his coat pocket, climbed from the car, closed the hood, and went to the truck, smiling kindly as he opened the door and helped the woman out. Then he climbed into the truck’s cab and turned off the heater.

“How much do I owe you for your prompt and valuable assistance, Mr. Twitchel?” the woman asked as she retrieved a wallet from her coat pocket and opened it. Several expensive rings on her fingers flashed and sparkled under the fluorescent shop light. Mort paused to admire their value and hoped something of equal value was inside the box he had stolen.

“Your price?” the woman asked.

Mort noticed her raised eyebrows and said, “My flat rate is fifty bucks up front for the tow, plus five for each mile. That’s fifty-five, minus the time spent working on your engine. For that, I charge ten bucks an hour, which I know sounds expensive, but a guy’s gotta make a living, you know.”

The woman nodded. “I’ll pay you for the entire hour, although a cup of hot coffee would have been nice.” She handed him a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. “You’ve been very professional. Keep the change.”

Mort grinned. “Thank you kindly, Miss…”

“Umberto.”

“That’s an unusual name around here.”

“I moved here in July. I teach at the high school.”

Mort nodded as if he approved of her reply. “Well, I’m glad I could be of service.”

He left her while he wrote up a greasy receipt at his workbench and she got into the car and waited. When he handed the receipt to her through the open window of her car, he hoped she hadn’t noticed the box missing from her purse.

She took the receipt, put it in her wallet, and addressed him once more.

“Have a very merry Christmas. And make sure you spend some of that money on your mother.”

“My mother?”

“The woman inside.” She narrowed her eyes at him.

Mort thought he saw a flash of green light pass across them.

“You have a pleasant night, Mr. Twitchel,” she said before she backed out.

When her taillights were out of sight, Mort opened the box. He whistled when he saw the yellow gold necklace trimmed with diamonds. He stepped outside and grinned wide. It was going to be a very merry Christmas indeed. Ron Koehler at the pawnshop always paid top dollar for jewelry with no engravings. And the diamonds were not too big that ole Ron would have any trouble selling it, either.

Mort grinned so wide that the sharp, frigid air hurt his teeth.

He held the necklace to the clear, night sky. The diamonds glistened like the stars there—all those billion sparkling lights ablaze against the night’s velvet canvas above him.

The huge sky made him feel small and insignificant … and dizzy.

He squeezed shut his eyes, then looked again at the starry sky.

The wide expanse made him dizzier. He stumbled and sat hard on the snow; his gaze, however, remained riveted on the sky. There, the stars grew suddenly larger, their light brightening as a billion planets and suns came at him at a terrible speed.

They filled his vision and he felt the weight of their magnitude descending on him.

His throat tightened. He knew what he saw wasn’t real.

Still, they fell, seen only by him.

He tried to open his mouth and call out to his mother—to scream for her to rescue him as the entire night sky seemed to drop on him, crushing the air from his lungs.

Minutes later, a film of clouds entered the vast, starry sky from the north. New snowflakes fell where Mort’s body lay on the driveway’s old snow, his wide eyes staring lifelessly at the cover of snow clouds drifting across the sky.

A green shimmer of light appeared next to him. The pretty woman stepped from the shimmer and pried the necklace and box from Mort’s icy hands. She put on the adornment and felt her magic return. A ruddy color filled her cheeks; her eyes filled with bright emerald. She bent and placed a two-liter bottle of Pepsi and a bag of potato chips in the snow, next to Mort. Then she took the hundred dollars from his pocket and placed it under the bottle of Pepsi.

“For your mother,” she said, “so she won’t think too unkindly of you.”

She stood, twirled a hand, and her body vanished in a flare of green light eaten by the night’s rapacious darkness.

# # #

“I liked this story,” I said to Vree. “Will you tell me more?”

The End.

Thanks for reading my stories about Ravenwood and Vree and other characters there. I stopped writing about Ravenwood in 1974 and stopped thinking about the place until that day many years later when I opened those notebooks from my mom’s attic and reconnected with Vree.

I want to publish some of those stories after I edit them, so please let me know your thoughts. Helpful criticism goes a long way and adds to filling and strengthening a writer’s toolbox.

Ravenwood, Chapter 25 [fiction]

Stories, Part 2:

“I liked your story,” I said. “It was very good. Are you writing a book?”

“I am.”

“Really?”

“Yes. I’d like to be an author someday. Or a painter. I haven’t decided. I love painting landscapes and everyone tells me I should be a professional artist. But I’m only fifteen.”

“You don’t have to be a certain age to be talented. And you don’t have to be talented at only one thing.” I sucked in a breath, then released it. “I knew someone like you before she left.”

“You’re talking about me. What was I like before things changed?”

“You loved telling ghost stories.”

“I still do.”

“Really? Like what? Will you tell me one?”

“I will.” And so she told me the following story:

Some women have voices like angels. And Angela was the perfect name for the angel following him.

Brian listened to the gentle cadence of her voice, smiling and feeling warm and love-struck wonderful.

“Did you remember to bring your new camera?” she asked.

Brian pushed hanging branches away from his face. This part of the woods on Myers Ridge was thick with broadleaf and coniferous trees, and infested with thorny blackberry and raspberry bushes. These barbed sentries were deep in cover, away from hungry predators and ambitious and adventurous gardeners with spades and pruning shears. But few people trespassed here on his land. The terrain was rough and steep in many places, challenging to walk over. Thick and thorny underbrush, stinging nettle, and rattlesnakes were common threats, including branches falling from trees infected by disease and acid rain attacking their roots.

Overall, it was a miserable place in the summer for anyone who ventured off the large deer trail they were on. And he did not intend to leave the trail and risk not being with Angela.

“I did,” he said, answering her question. “It’s in my pack.”

He was glad to have the heavy pack on his back again. Hiking always cleared his mind and made his lungs and legs stronger. Plus, it usually brought Angela to him.

“I’m glad you came along today,” he said.

“I’m glad, too,” Angela said.

He glanced back at her and liked what he saw. Her one-piece calico dress looked old-fashioned in its simple, baggy design, but it made her look like a woman. The same with her long, flowing red hair. Not short and tomboyish like so many of women’s’ hairstyles today

“What time is it?” she asked him before he returned his attention to the deer path.

“Almost four o’clock,” he said without looking at his watch.

“I wish it were earlier,” she said. “I don’t want the day to end. You make everything better just by letting me be with you.”

He cleared his throat, feeling awkward for the first time today. He smiled and remembered the same feeling when he was young and uncertain. “You make me feel new and alive,” he told her. “What’s even more amazing is that someone like you could be in love with me.”

“You’re a wonderful guy. Don’t sell yourself short.”

“My ex would disagree with that.” He stared at the shadows flickering along the pathway from the sunlight filtering through the treetops, and saw painful memories in them. Some of them grew before his eyes and he was certain he did not want to see them again. He looked away at the clearing ahead and was glad to know the memories would not follow him there. But a few pressed their way between him and Angela anyway and lurked behind him like overgrown thieves wanting to rob him of his happiness.

He refused to look back until Angela asked, “Is that why you burned all your paintings of her?”

“I had to let go. It was the only way to heal from the heartbreak and all those drunken nights of pity dates.”

“Your portraits are very good,” she said. “I like the one you’re doing of me.”

He smiled. “Has someone been in my studio?”

“I hope you don’t mind. It’s the only place indoors I’m able to go … for now.”

Brian’s smile became a grin. The memories left him and Angela hurried to decrease the distance between her and Brian. When she was close enough to touch him without reaching out, she said, “When you take my picture this time, I want you to stand next to me.”

“Can I hold your hand?”

“Yes. Please. I love you.”

Like every time before, Brian choked up when he tried to voice his love for her. Still, as his legs began to feel rubbery, he managed not to trip along the rutted trail that wound past scrub and fewer and smaller trees. Soon they would come to the clearing that had been a pasture when his grandfather owned the land. Brian thought of the pink and blue boulders that Grandpa Eric had dug from the ground and used as fencing for his bulls before he installed the electric fence. One of those rocks would make a good place to take Angela’s photo before her time to leave.

They passed the place where Grandpa’s barn had been. The structure had collapsed years ago, its timber now covered with field grass and hidden from sight by spruce, maple, ash, and poplar trees. He listened to Angela’s voice while she continued to talk. John again. She was reliving the phone call.

He glanced back at her when they entered the clearing and midafternoon sunshine. Her one-piece baggy calico dress billowed at her hips before a breeze pressed the material against her body, revealing her pleasant figure underneath. Brian looked away. She fiddled with her diamond engagement ring.

“After leaving the hospital, I thought I was strong enough to deal with it,” she said, “but after a few lonely nights at home, I began to fall to pieces. I called mother but she wouldn’t return any of my calls. We were never that close and I think she blamed me.

“So, I began sleeping during the days and drinking at night to help along the grieving, but the booze never stayed down, so I was miserably somewhere between sober and hung-over and sick to the stomach for a while until last Sunday when I got a call from John. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t coming home after all that happened to me.”

Brian said nothing. He barely heard the words she spoke. He had heard them so many times before.

“I’m glad you found me when you did,” she said. “It’s good to be connected to people who care about me.”

Brian led her to one of the rocks where sunlight brightened its salmon colored surface. Not too far in the distance, he heard the sound of bees buzzing. Angela’s time was short.

He took off his pack, took out the brand-new camera, and positioned it to face another pink rock. He set the timer and led her to the rock.

“Say cheese,” he said as he held her hand and smiled at the camera.

She kissed him on the cheek as the camera’s timer activated its shutter.

“I don’t want to go,” she said, her lips brushing his cheek.

The buzzing grew louder.

She brushed tears from her own cheeks.

He turned, took her in his arms and kissed her on the mouth.

Would she remember this tomorrow? Some days were like starting over.

He let his kiss linger on her lips before he released her. The buzzing sounded like a windy roar now.

He felt a faraway anger coming to him from the past and waited to see if it would make him cry. It did.

He felt electricity crawl across his skin. Angela’s body—her dress, too—turned silvery blue like a distant foggy sky. For a moment, she was there. Then she wasn’t.

The buzzing stopped.

Brian fetched his camera, returned it to his pack, and started back toward home, embracing tomorrow and aching to see Angela again.

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 24 [fiction]

Stories, Part 1:

When I returned to Ravenwood, it was May 1974, a Saturday, after another softball game. I sat at the top row bleachers behind home plate. Vree came to me and said, “I wrote a story.”

“I’d like to hear it,” I said.

She sat next to me, on my left, and told me this:

The best way to describe the room is it looked old—ancient-20th-century, single-bare-light-bulb, yellowed-wallpaper old. The room was small and square, sans any windows to clear away the smoky light that filled the place with nothingness. It smelled of dust and rotted upholstered furniture, but there was neither to be found. The black oak floor, warped in the center, held two high-backed wood chairs and was clean. It was always clean, yet no one cleaned here. Ever.

The pair of occupied chairs faced each other, their cheap wood painted oily black except where the paint chipped away like aging wounds. In one of the chairs sat a man in a dark gray suit, silver tie and black loafers. Gray argyle socks peeked from between the shoes and pants cuffs where his ankles crossed right over left. In the other chair, a woman sat upright, her hands folded elegantly in the lap of her black, strapless gown. Her hair was as dark as her dress and her skin glowed ivory.

“The prosecuting lawyers think Don Calloway killed his wife,” the woman said with a sweet and ever fresh voice. “Mr. Calloway says she fell down the stairs, but the lawyers think she was pushed. What do you think?”

The man drew his large left hand front to back through his short, spiky brown hair, down to the back of his neck where he stopped and rubbed away a kink. Behind him was a single door, closed and as old as the room, its round ivory handle smooth and polished and bone white. Below, neither light nor sound from the other side ever passed through the keyhole made for a skeleton key.

He reached for a cigarette from his shirt pocket, then remembered he had quit. He liked coffee and doughnuts with his smokes, but the room lacked anything to drink or eat. The thought evaporated when the woman spoke again, this time anxious.

“I think he’s guilty.”

“Only matters what the jury thinks,” he said. “Court is nothing more than a room of debaters, after all. Whoever presents the better argument wins. Or loses, should the jury be a bunch of morons.”

The woman brought a delicate right hand to the white pearl necklace around her throat. “Mr. Calloway grew up in the rich part of town,” she said with lips as red as scarlet. “He prospered in high school and college with the help of his banker father, and became prominent in TV as news anchor. I seem to recall he summered on the north end in that English brick house with sandstone trimmings and cast-iron fence, right next to the Methodist Church where their only child was baptized.”

“What’s your point?”

“He’s got money. He’ll go free. You wait and see.”

“But remember the circumstances,” the man said. “Calloway was seeing that New Cambridge shrink Maxine Green, and not on a professional level if you know what I mean. And the wife—well, suspicion turned for a while on the young man she was seeing. Police saw him hanging about the house after ‘the scene’. He gave them the slip and hasn’t been seen since.”

She looked past him at the door and he turned slightly. They waited as if anticipating someone’s arrival, but no one came. After almost a minute, the woman looked back at him. She asked accusingly, “You think the boy did it, don’t you?”

“Did what?”

“Push Mrs. Calloway down the stairs.”

The man folded his arms and leaned against the back of his chair. “Nah. His tender relations with an older and married woman were harmless and easy to explain. But running like he did makes him seem he has something to hide.”

The woman nodded. “The fellow next door … Ted Jackson, I think his name was, said he heard a crash just before Mrs. Calloway screamed, yet no one found anything broken.”

“Just her neck.”

She looked at him and frowned. “Did you know their house has a tainted history?”

He smiled. “It’s been mentioned. Some story started years ago by some crazy writer.” He laughed and saw her scolding him with a sharp look. He stopped and licked his lips. Then, “It’s just a story.”

She dabbed twisted fingers to the corners of her mouth. “A Dr. Geddes lived there, back in ’59. He killed his wife Sarah in the kitchen … stabbed her to death after they returned from a party. He thought she had been having an affair.”

He waved impatiently and frowned. When he settled, she continued.

“In ’52, a family named Walker moved in and reported that the house was haunted by Sarah Geddes’s ghost. They moved right out and the place remained empty until Mr. Calloway bought it.”

He shrugged and their conversation stalled.

“Just a story,” he said. He yawned, closed his eyes, and looked ready to take a nap when the woman interrupted his slumber.

“She had on a black dress,” she said.

“Who?”

“Sarah Geddes. A black strapless evening gown like mine. Like the one in the newspaper article my mother has in her scrapbook.”

He coughed and shifted in his seat. “They let you go to your mother’s?”

She bit her bottom lip. “Just once. A long time ago.”

He nodded and sighed. “Me too, but I can’t remember why.” Then he shrugged and unbuttoned his jacket to reveal a blue vest. Except where black, inky color stained it, the interior jacket was three shades lighter than his suit. He pulled out a gold pocket watch and clicked it open.

“What time is it?” she asked.

He wound the watch by its stem until it was tight.

“Don’t know,” he said at last. “The damned thing stopped a long time ago.”

She looked at the door. “Do you think it will ever be our turn?”

“Someday,” he said and closed the watch’s cover. “It’s just a matter of time.”

To be continued.

Ravenwood, Chapter 23 [fiction]

Do Overs, Part 3:

I decided to distance myself from the people in Ravenwood for a while. Then Vree’s sixteenth birthday arrived.

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

She leapt from the mower and almost fell when she stumbled over a root. I hurried to catch her.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I got the lawnmower stuck on these tree roots. My dad’s going to kill me if I broke anything.” She pushed from me and brushed her ponytail from her face. Wind blew across a flowery second-growth field behind us and purple-gray rainclouds edged the sky around us.

“Help me,” Vree said. She stood next to the mower and scowled at it.

I pondered what to do. All I knew about lawnmowers was how to check the gas and oil, and how to start the engine and turn it off.

“Hello?” Vree’s irritated voice brought me back. “Help me get it off this root.” She hiked up the waistband of her cotton jeans and grabbed the steering wheel. Wind rippled her green and white T-shirt like a flag and it danced across her back.

I hurried, placed both hands on the back of the seat and rocked the mower, grunting and pushing it until it was away from the roots. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it.

“There’s a can of tree wound sealer in the shed left over from when I cut into the roots last year,” Vree said. She balled her hands into fists. “This is great. Daddy’s gonna ground me. And on my birthday”

Thunder rumbled over us.

Vree hurried back into the seat and tried to start the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life. She tried several more times before she gave up. Her blue-green eyes met my gaze and worry filled them.

Thunder banged overhead, vibrating its way into me. The sky opened and dropped a flood of rain. It rushed through the umbrella of leafy oak branches and drenched us. We scampered to the tree trunk and shivered from the chill. Thirty yards away, the backdoor of her parents’ spacious Craftsman home beckoned us. Her orange tabby cat sat at the living room’s middle bay window, watching from behind the rain-streaked glass, and waiting for her to feed it. Three o’clock was Mr. Whiskers’ afternoon feeding time.

Five minutes later, the rainstorm showed no signs of letting up. Vree and I were drenched.

I followed her to the lawnmower, which felt heavier in the rain as we struggled to push it to the shed behind the garage.

“Come on and move,” she begged the mower. “Move.”

My shoes lost traction on the wet grass, and I lost my footing twice more before we managed half the distance to the shed.

Thunder cracked behind us and I yelped.

The rain fell faster and colder.

We kept pushing and had gone ten feet across the soggy ground when a flash of bright light dazzled me and tremendous heat hit me like a giant fist and knocked me off my feet. I do not remember landing on my back before I rolled to my stomach and rubbed at my eyes with cold, wet fingers.

Vree lay on her back a few feet away. My body ached as I inched my way to her. Her arms and legs twitched then stopped. She did not move.

I begged her to answer me.

“Can you hear me?” I took her hand in mine. Her eyes were closed; she was not breathing.

I placed an ear over her mouth to hear or feel for air. Nothing. Putting two fingers on her neck, I felt for a pulse. None.

“Please don’t die.” I fell on her and wept, but only for a second.

I had to save her.

I had seen an EMT demonstrate CPR on a rubber mannequin in my eighth grade Human Health class three years ago. But that was it.

“Come back, please don’t be dead, answer me, please,” I begged while I applied the little I knew about external cardiac massage.

Minutes later, I stopped at the sight of her lips becoming blue. I switched to mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but she remained collapsed at my knees with no pulse and no breath.

The rain had stopped but I did not know it until sunlight fell across her lifeless face.

“Don’t be dead,” I pleaded. I looked heavenward. “Please, don’t take her away.”

White light glows from Vree’s face

A buzzing filled my head, vibrated down my back, to my arms and hands, on to my legs and feet. The palms of my hands grew sore where I clutched Vree’s shoulders. White light glowed from her face. Warmth filled me from head to toe.

Was this a trick of the sun?

Vree shuddered against me. I touched her cheeks and her face stopped glowing.

She gasped in a breath and opened her eyes.

“What happened?” she asked. Her voice sounded gravelly.

“I don’t know.”

“I saw white light. It was all around me. A voice—a woman’s voice—told me to stay with you.”

“With me?”

“Yes.” She sat up. “The voice said we’re connected and I’m to never break that connection.”

“Why? What will happen if you do?”

“She didn’t say.”

Vree stood on wobbly legs for a moment. I helped her put away the mower, then wished her a happy birthday before I stopped typing.

Vree had said that she was never to break her connection to me. She kept that promise and visited me in my dreams. Ten months passed before I sat at my typewriter and visited her.

My visit with Vree coming soon.

Ravenwood, Chapter 22 [fiction]

Do Overs, Part 2:

Vree had agreed to meet with me after the game. She, Liam, and I, sat at the lower level of the bleachers behind the backstop and home plate.

She and I were older—she fifteen, about to turn sixteen in two months—and strangers. Liam and I were sixteen and born in February. He was eight days older and had his driver’s license. Vree planned to get hers in August.

She did not remember ever meeting me, so I pretended to have visited Ravenwood only once when I was five years old. But Liam caught me in my lie.

“You told Amy that you and Vree met two years ago,” he said, giving me the once-over all over again.

Flustered, I took in a deep breath and wound up my courage. It was time to tell the truth.

I told Vree about our first meeting, rescuing Laurie Burnett, Amy’s band ARC, The Roundhouse, and Nancy Pennwater Stephenson.

She did not know Nancy. Her parents were not the owners of The Roundhouse—Liam’s Uncle Paul owned the place and called it The Roundabout. She never sang in Amy’s band, which was The Amys and had been for almost three years. And, after punching me in the upper arm for mentioning it, she emphatically insisted she had never ever been pregnant and didn’t plan to be for several years.

Then she looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

“I know it sounds crazy,” I said, “but it happened. Ravenwood has changed. After the woman in white came, Ravenwood and everyone in it vanished. When it came back, an old man with a German shepherd lived in your house.” I omitted the vanishing cider mill, the yellow fairy, and Vree’s return when she told the fairy to take her home. “Now you’re back and almost everything about you is different. I don’t suppose your mom is named Deborah and works as a nurse at the hospital.”

“Her name is Karri. She’s a schoolteacher. She teaches ninth grade science.”

“And your dad is probably not a dentist named Charles.”

“His name is Michael. He was a lawyer until lightning struck and killed him last summer.”

“I’m sorry for your loss,” I said. “So, is Vree still a nickname from your initials VRE?”

“Yes.”

I nodded. “Other than that, it seems I know very little about you … the new you.”

“What about me?” Liam asked. “How have I changed?”

“I don’t know you at all, though you remind me of a guy named Leonard who lives next door to one of my cousins. We call him Lenny. You look just like him.”

“I have to go,” Vree said when a white Chevy station wagon drove into the parking lot. Rubber tires crunched gravel before the car stopped some forty yards away. The driver—a dark-haired woman with very short hair—honked the horn.

“Is that your mom?” I asked.

“Yes.” Vree stood. “Maybe I’ll see you around,” she said before leaving.

“I should go, too,” Liam said when Vree’s mom pulled away and drove off with Vree riding shotgun.

He picked up his fishing rod and left me alone at the bleachers.

“You’re too close to your characters,” a woman said. I looked around, but no one was there. “You cannot see what’s happening until you distance yourself from them.”

I waited for her to say more.

She didn’t.

I stopped typing.

To be continued.