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.

#

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.

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.

*

Vree’s New Journey [character development]

I am preparing to write stories about Vree Erickson and her friend Lenny Stevens again. Lenny is a character I created 48 years ago, named Liam Burkhart then. Vree soon followed.

The above statement makes it seem like I have written for a long time. I have not. I spent most of that time painting and creating art. Even then, I labored a good part of that time working jobs that paid the bills and gave my family and me food and shelter. I have always struggled commercially and financially as an artist. More so as a writer. But I still do it. Not for fame and fortune. I do it because it still drives me.

Vree and Lenny

Vree and Lenny still come and speak to me, whether I am asleep or awake. Sometimes they tell me of adventures that I end up recording and publishing on the Internet. Someday, those adventures may make it to the print market where people pick books from shelves. For now, though, I publish those adventures in the quickest medium I know.

Lately, Vree has been revealing new stories to me. She does this every year around this time. Winter is coming and I am going to be spending more time indoors. Now is the time to dust off the old laptop and write again.

The last story I published about Vree had her battling the ghost of a witch named Mergelda, also called Margga in an earlier version, which bloomed into a novel from a short story about Lenny and ghost dogs that I called hellhounds for dramatic purpose.

It was my first novel and I was excited to have reached that pinnacle as a writer. But it was not the story I wanted to publish. Or, more accurately, it was not the same story Vree and Lenny first told me, the one that made me rush to my laptop and spill out 100,000 words.

Since then, I have stopped rushing to write more stories. I have taken the time to listen to my characters and to take notes. Vree, who was once an only child 48 years ago before she became the youngest of triplets in the novel, is back to her old self. She is 13 again and dealing with the loss of her father. He died when lightning struck him. The lightning struck her too and changed her—she can hear someone’s thoughts when she is close to the person. And the lightning burned down her home, forcing her and her mother to move to Myers Ridge, a common spooky place in my stories.

Vree can also see her father’s ghost. He appears to her as a friendly apparition. He was a spirit in the novel, but Vree argues with me that he is a ghost. “We cannot see spirits,” she says. “We can only sense them. We see ghosts because they hold to the light they had when they had a human body. We don’t see spirits because they let go of the light.”

I do not know what the light is, but I am sure Vree will show it to me. She has already told me that we are beings who embrace light, and that we fear darkness. “Darkness is the absence of light,” she says. But I question her for more information. Is darkness a void? A black hole? Negative energy?

“Darkness is no light. Exactly that. Nothing more and nothing less.”

I can tell it is going to be an interesting winter with her. I hope she and Lenny show enough of their world and themselves to me that I may produce a new book in the spring. A book that stays true to my characters’ revelations. And a book that will satisfy them and me after all the edits are done.

Another Year and Fixing My Blog

Yes. Another year.

As usual, I entered my WordPress blog after a long hiatus and spent the whole day redesigning my blog instead of writing. The artist is the true inner child in me—I love playing with design.

Anyway, I played all day with many themes, inspecting their positive and negative elements until I found a design with a high proportion of positive factors to make my blog look its best. I simplified my categories to Art Blog, Writing Blog, and Life Blog, which echo my blog’s underlying title: Art ~ Writing ~ Life.

Next on my agenda for 2018 is a plan to blog more … and as often as I can without it interrupting other agendas on my schedule. We’ll see. I make no promises—or resolutions—other than I have made more changes to my Ridgewood characters and progressed with Vree’s Margga’s Curse story, now called The Witch’s Curse, its working title when I first drafted the book.

You may remember from January 2017 that I planned to rewrite Margga’s Curse and publish it as a physical paperback at Amazon, which was to be the first book in The Ridgewood Chronicles series. That didn’t happen, so I’m extending that plan and aiming for a finished project by the end of the year.

But I make no promises.

Anyway, have a safe 2018 and live your life like there’s no tomorrow.

New Ridgewood, 2 [fiction]

Wherever Vree was, she could not see much, just gray darkness similar to the warm and safe kind beneath her blankets when she and Zoey used them for tents in her bedroom. But she was not beneath her blankets. The grayness was infinite here, wherever here was, and she floated and rolled and swam in it, which made her certain she was dreaming.

There was nothing to look at, only her hands and arms and the rest of her body below her head, though they were almost impossible to see in the grayness. She wore a gown—no. Not a gown. It was a long T-shirt—the kind she wore as pajamas. She also had a pair of white ankle socks on feet that seemed far away. They floated in and out of sight.

She grew bored with floating, so she sat, surprised to find a plush seat beneath her—a sofa by its size and shape when she stretched out her arms on either side.

“Nice,” she said.

The sofa made a comfortable bed.

“Very nice.”

She floated alone. And she liked it.

She floated with her sofa, going nowhere.

There was no sense of emergency here—no alarm to awaken her to another day of chores, no schedules to follow and adhere to, and no places to be at, like Chase’s baseball games and Emma’s piano recitals.

She liked that, too.

Except for the infinite grayness. It was like being underwater. She searched for color. She had seen plenty of colorful underwater worlds of coral reefs and tropical fish.

But this was not the ocean.

“Where am I?” she asked a pinpoint of white light far above her, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away.

An urgent need to go to it overwhelmed her. Whatever was there was important. Perhaps color was there.

“Hurry,” she said to her sofa, which floated and ignored her requests for it to speed to the light. “I need to go there. Now.”

“Let it come to you,” a familiar voice said from the seat to her right.

“Daddy?” Vree squealed, delighted to hear his voice.

“Be patient,” he said from the grayness, his thin body an almost featureless shape in the seat next to her. She scrambled from her seat and leapt in his embrace of long arms that wrapped around her and held her close. His Aqua Velva cologne made her grin wide while she snuggled against him.

Sudden white light bathed them as though someone had flicked on a light switch. Vree fell from her father’s embrace but remained snuggled against him. He wore his usual dark work suit and shoes—all business. And her T-shirt was the Bugs Bunny one from last Christmas.

She smiled a short-lived grin at her father who now wore his blue silk robe and matching pajamas and slippers from the same Christmas.

“How did you change clothes so fast?” she asked.

“It’s Christmas,” he said, pointing a long finger at the infinite white space in front of them. Vree looked. She wanted to see a Christmas tree and decorations there, but there was none. No Christmas smells of cookies and cake, and no carols playing in the background. No noise at all.

Someone coughed. A quick, soft cough loud enough that it sent her attention to an armchair that descended from above them. It stopped in front of the sofa and a girl looked up from an open, oversized hardcover book.

“You look like me,” Vree said.

The doppelganger smiled at her, then closed the book softly and laid it in her lap of skinny leg jeans—Vree’s favorite pair from last Christmas. She even wore Vree’s oversized tank top with a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front, which had also been a Christmas gift. Her blonde hair—either fastened in a bun or a ponytail in the back—was pulled tight from her face.

Vree noticed her own hair was loose and draped around her neck and shoulders.

“Who is she?” Vree asked her father.

“I’m you,” the doppelganger said.

“This is such a weird dream,” Vree said. “I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about me before.”

“’Tis no dream, girlfriend,” the other Vree said. “Welcome to one of death’s many realities … home away from home … the land of repetition and boredom.” She yawned audibly.

“Hush,” Charles said to her. Then, to Vree, he said, “She’s your subconscious. She needs to be a part of you, not floating here without you. You must pull her in so you can recover. The two of you need to be one again.”

Vree clutched her father’s arm in a tight embrace. “Recover from what?”

“A coma,” the other Vree called out. “Lightning struck us. It killed Daddy and put us in the hospital, unconscious.”

Vree scowled at the girl. “I don’t like this dream. I wish you’d go away.”

“You’re in denial, girlfriend. But that doesn’t change the facts. You need to wake from this coma.”

“I don’t believe you,” Vree said. “Daddy’s right here. This is just a dream trying to go bad.” She searched her father’s solemn face. “Tell her she’s crazy.”

Charles met her gaze. “To awaken from your coma, you need to be one with your subconscious and create order in your mind. You need to embrace your subconscious again.”

Vree shook her head.

“You can do this, Vree, honey,” Charles said. “The lightning separated you from your subconscious, but it also triggered special abilities in you. You need your subconscious so you can live.”

Vree let go of his arm and scooted away. She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “This is just a dream.”

No one said anything.

Vree uncrossed her arms and looked down at herself. She no longer wore the Bugs Bunny shirt. Her red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt made her think of rain, thunder, and—

“If this isn’t a dream, then where am I?”

“Somewhere between life and death.”

Vree moaned and shook her head.

“Hey-hey, girlfriend,” the other Vree called out, “where’s the love?”

“I don’t love you!”

“Without her, you cannot live,” Charles said.

“If all this is true and you’re dead but I’m not, I don’t wanna live without you.”

“Hush your nonsense, Verawenda Renee. You need to continue living. You need to do important things where you’re going. Now, sit up straight, chin out, and bring your subconscious to you. Think it and it will happen. Accept her and she will come. Let it happen.”

Vree frowned at him. He had moved closer to her. She reached out and took one of his hands in hers. He lifted it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Then he released it. A white light glowed from her hand, spread up her arm, then over her body until the light bathed her.

Across the short distance, white light bathed the other Vree.

“Now that you’re awakening, it’s time for me to go.” Charles’s form grew translucent. “The path of your new life will be difficult, especially where you are headed. But your subconscious will be with you to help.” He raised a finger to hush her interruption. “You can do this.”

He vanished.

The light hurt Vree’s eyes, so she covered them with her hands. She did not see the lights from each body connect and become one.

“Breathe,” the other Vree said, her voice coming from all directions.

“I am breathing.” Vree sucked in a breath. “See?”

“Deeper. I want you to take a deep breath this time. A really big breath.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

Vree uncovered her eyes but kept them closed. Then she took in a deep breath.

The light vanished. So did Vree.

*.*.*