Here is an unedited chapter of my novel, Night of the Hellhounds. Enjoy.
Vree was glad the blueberry patch was behind the house and not far from the back door. Even though the day was sunny and birds sang merrily and flew across the kind of sky summers are famous for, she had read that lightning could strike on a clear day.
She paid close attention to the cloudless sky and kept her attention away from the shadows in the woods almost fifty yards in front of her. Besides her fear of lightning, she was in no mood to see another pair of red eyes. She stayed close to Lenny, who walked at her side and guided her to an open field of wild grass and weeds.
“Where are the blueberry bushes?” she asked, looking around when they stopped.
“We’re standing in them.”
She looked down at clumps of both ripe, plump, light-blue blueberries, and unripe, tiny green and white ones. Following Lenny’s instructions, she knelt low to the ground and picked only from healthy, full bushes that were in direct sunlight. She ate some of the ripe berries, of course, which tasted sweeter than any her mom bought at the store, and she soon forgot about scary lightning and red eyes.
When she had her pan filled, she heard the faraway sound of bees buzzing. She cocked her head and tried to determine whether the sound came from actual bees.
The buzzing sound quieted. She turned to show Lenny her pan of berries and wound up looking at a pair of blue, leathery knees inches away from her face. She emitted a small screech that should have been a scream as she recoiled, both startled and frightened. She landed hard on her backside. Berries fell from the pan and littered her lap and the ground. She looked up at the face of the creature Lenny had called a Roualen. Her breath and the voice that she tried using to call for Lenny felt locked in her chest.
The Roualen’s beady red eyes, practically the same as the ones she had seen across the road and downtown, looked down at her from a blue leathery face with an anteater snout for a nose and mouth. Copper hair covered its head, shoulders and arms, just as Lenny’s drawing had depicted.
“Don’t hurt me,” Vree managed to say.
A sudden voice similar to the one downtown entered her mind.
Vree nodded. “Yes.” Her voice cracked. She cleared her throat and caught her breath. “I see you.”
She thought she heard it squeal as it turned and loped away from her. When she stood, she saw it turn and look over a shoulder at her before it quickened its pace and hurried through the blueberry field and into the woods where the trees and brush were thick and dark and hid the creature from her.
She turned and saw Lenny stooped low and picking berries at the far edge of the patch, thirty yards away. She picked up her fallen berries, returned them to her pan one by one, and then went to him.
“I saw your creature,” she said when he looked up at her. “Next time, use a red crayon for its eyes instead of a black one.” She spun and headed toward the back door, leaving him watching her, a frown and confused look chiseling his face and brow.
She was almost to the door when he caught up and stepped in front of her. He had left behind his pan of blueberries, so he had his hands up, turning the palms toward her.
“Wait. You saw a Roualen?”
She saw his stained fingers and thought of the creature’s blue leathery skin.
“I’d rather not talk—”
“How is that possible?” he asked.
She stepped back and sputtered, “I dunno … it was just there, looking down at me with red, meddling eyes.”
“Yes. Meddling. Its eyes darting over me like a voyeur.”
“I think you’re confusing meddling with curious.”
“But that wasn’t the worst part.” Vree shivered as she recalled the panic and terror she had seen in the Roualen’s eyes before it ran off, and the anger they held when it turned back to look at her.
She scanned the woods, looking to see if it peered out at her.
Lenny followed her gaze. After a moment, he said, “You know, Roualens are a myth, just like Bigfoot.”
“Well, someone must have seen one or you wouldn’t have a drawing of it copied from a book.”
Lenny shrugged. “Humans aren’t supposed to be able to see them.” Then he grinned at her, his eyes large. “What did it look like?” he asked. “Did it have blue skin and orange fur like the picture I copied?”
“Look, I’d rather not talk about it. Okay?”
Vree brushed past him and went inside, letting the wooden screen door slam shut behind her.
“Lenny’s bringing the berries,” she said to the quizzical looks she received when she passed her mom and grandmother in the bright yellow kitchen. “I’m taking a shower,” she added and held up her stained hands, “if that’s okay.”
“That’s fine, honey,” Evelyn said from in front of the large white stove. “But you’ll want to wait until the last load of laundry is done washing. Our pump can handle only one job at a time.”
“But what about my hands?”
“I already have a solution for that.” Evelyn went to Vree and guided her to the kitchen’s aluminum sink. “Cornmeal, toothpaste and lemon juice works wonders on blueberry stains.” She scooped with her fingers a yellowish paste from a ceramic cereal bowl on the windowsill and rubbed it on Vree’s hands. “Just let this sit for a few minutes, then wash it off with warm water.”
Evelyn wiped the paste from her own hands with a dishtowel and returned to the stove where silver pots of cubed potatoes, kernels of corn and leafy spinach boiled, stewed and simmered. Karrie stood to the right and stirred the corn with a wooden spoon. Her shoulders slouched and Vree knew she was exhausted after their long drive. Vree turned on the water to wash her hands so she could relieve her mother when Amy stepped from the washroom at the right of the stove and stopped at Karrie’s side.
“I can do that,” Amy said. She took the spoon from Karrie who released it without protest. “You should sit and relax, maybe take a nap,” Amy continued. She embraced her mother, and then turned her attention to the pots on the stove while Karrie stretched and released a yawn before heading in the direction of the living room.
“You’re such a dear,” Evelyn said to Amy.
“With Dad not around, I do what I can to help,” Amy said.
Vree scowled out the window above the sink and watched Lenny trudge from the blueberry patch, carrying the two pans of berries. She wondered if he would say anything about her seeing the Roualen.
Humans aren’t supposed to be able to see them.
She washed the paste from her hands, dried them on Evelyn’s dishtowel, and then hurried and met him at the screen door.
“Not a word to anyone about what happened,” she said through the screen.
“Not a word to anyone about what?” Jack Lybrook asked as he stepped into view and stood beside Lenny. He carried a coil of clothesline around a shoulder.
Vree stepped away from the door and her grandfather who peered in at her. “Nothing,” she said sheepishly.
“I … I spilled the berries and they got dirty.”
“Well, they’ll get a good cleaning and rinsing,” Jack said before he proceeded toward the side yard and nearest T-post of clothesline. Someone had hung shirts and pants to dry on the two lines there.
As Jack began adding more line, Lenny coughed and drew Vree’s attention to him.
“Are you gonna let me in, or what?” he asked as he held up the two pans of blueberries.
Vree opened the door and let him inside.
“I mean it,” she said. She stood in front of him and blocked his way to the kitchen. “I don’t want my brother and sister to know about what I saw. Or my mom and grandparents. You got it?”
“But, Vree, you can see—”
“No.” Vree glared at him.
“Okay. I got it.” Lenny brushed past her and entered the kitchen.
Vree looked out at the woods where the Roualen had run to get away from her.
“I don’t ever want to see you again,” she said.