While I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I’m offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments. So far, teenagers Vree Erickson and Lenny Stevens have battled hellhounds, Vree found a magic crystal that took possession of her body and killed two men, and yesterday she and Lenny parted after the magic in her put a boy and girl inside a computer game.
In this chapter of “III”, Vree is still not a POV character. That role goes to a minor character (Karrie Erickson’s cousin who is called Uncle John) that happens to be in a certain place at the right time. In this case, that place is where another green crystal is. The crystal’s magic sends him back in time where…
The past is a door with ghosts behind it.
December 28, 2012
Three days after Christmas, it rained that morning. That afternoon the distant sun came out and warmed the air as best it could. John Gentry hitched sharp-angled shoulders and cast his line from a wooden dock east of Myers Ridge at a cabin next to one of Alice Lake’s several marshes. His lake used to be a good lake until 1979 when it became tormented by industrial dumping. Then, the plastics factory moved overseas in 2001. EPA claimed the lake clean again last year, but only a few anglers ever ventured to eat from waters that many local environmentalists claimed still maintained an unhealthy middle.
But John knew how to recognize cancer sores on his fish, and he knew good meat by its smell before he put it to butter, lemon, and salt and pepper. And any fish thoroughly gutted and seasoned and fried right was edible, even those muddy tasting largemouth he had caught two years ago.
A bar of silver flashed close to his dock. He cast his line and hooked a smallmouth bass. Though not as good tasting as crappie or walleye, he considered any fish better eating than largemouth. He tossed the fish in his cooler, tried again for a trout, and hooked another smallmouth.
He wondered. Smallmouth normally kept to the deeper, colder sections of this mesotrophic lake. Was the marsh of aquatic vegetation bringing them closer to shore?
Victor would have known.
John checked his watch, noted the hour, and knew it was time to spruce himself inside the cabin before paying respect to the man who had been his adopted father and best friend.
As he reeled in his line from one more try at catching a lake trout, he hooked something heavy. He struggled to undo the object, then brought it up slowly, careful not to break the line and lose his favorite and most effective lure.
It was a small pail like the kind he once carried fish home when he was a boy. But this pail had lost its shine long ago. Completely rusted, it had holes in the side and was filled with muddy silt that he emptied on the dock and looked through for crayfish, minnows and other baitfish. He found nothing of interest but a four-inch length of green crystal that warmed and brightened in his hand, even after he washed the mud away in the cold lake water. It would make a nice pendant or key fob, so he pocketed it before heading to the cabin.
A half-hour later, without Sara at his side (she was in Pittsburgh, sitting in for him at a Dairy Producers Conference), he hurried from the cabin as the sky started to spit rain, and drove his Camry along a wooded trail toward Ridgewood and Victor O’Neil’s funeral.
He felt alone without his constant companion to social engagements next to him. (They had married twenty-seven years ago, the year she graduated from nearby New Cambridge University. He was twenty and she had just turned twenty-three. The wedding ceremony turned out better than how they had rehearsed it. Even the cake turned out perfect. And although his foster mom Zela O’Neil lamented he had married too young, that his destiny was college and a profession as a teacher, she shared his happiness anyway when he became a farmer and part-time writer for the Ridgewood Gazette. She and Victor ended up loving Sara and the children dearly.)
During the drive to the highway, he realized he had left his wallet in his tackle box inside the cabin. He considered turning around but a sudden rush of hail burst through the canopy of trees. Several yards ahead, a pine tree that had lost its branches and bark toppled and splintered across the trail. He braked and cursed, knowing he would have to leave the dryness of his car to remove the tree blocking his way. As he reached for the door handle, a whistling bolt of lightning struck the hood of his car and rocked it like a boat taking a large wake to the stern. His ears popped and a deafening ringing filled his head. His hands tingled and felt like they had been too close to a raging fire. He put his fingertips to his tongue to relieve the burn. When the ringing stopped and the ache in his fingers subsided, the storm was gone and the sun was shining.
He got out and inspected a large scorch mark across the hood where the lightning had turned portions of the car’s metallic blue color to an ashy gray. Nothing some paint would not fix he reasoned before he went to remove the tree. It was gone.
But how? Had he imagined it? After all, the hail had come down fast and decreased visibility. Maybe it had tricked his vision and made him think a tree had fallen. Whatever had happened, the trail was clear of fallen trees … and hailstones.
The sunlight could have melted the hailstones. But what had happened to the tree?
The oddness of the situation spooked him enough to drive away before anything else unexplainable happened.
A headache knifed at his eyes and the evening skylight to his left seemed especially bright when he drove to Ridgewood. He put away his thoughts about the tree and hail as he made his way to the funeral home. When he arrived, no one was there, so he tried calling Zela. His cell phone searched for a signal.
He left downtown Ridgewood and drove east to Victor and Zela’s home where he grew up. As he turned on Hamilton Street and approached the house, a thin teenage boy darted out in front of his car. He stopped quick enough not to hit the boy, and then stared dumbly at a face he hadn’t seen for a long, long time.
“Sorry, mister,” the boy wearing blue jeans and a white T-shirt called out as he scurried off.
“Wait for me.” A girl no older than five ran across the street next. She, too, passed in front of the car and he watched his cousin Karrie in a flowery dress catch up to the boy — a boy he had been in another time when Karrie’s parents — his aunt and uncle — had lived next door to Victor and Zela O’Neil. Karrie and her folks would move to Pittsburgh and John would stay behind with the O’Neils, the country in his heart calling him to stay.
For the first time, he took in the flora. It was summer here: trees and shrubbery were in full bloom. He felt the world slowing until Victor bounded to the driveway, practically leapt into his red ’66 Chevy pickup truck, backed out on the street and drove past, his thirtyish face looking occupied with thought.
John wasn’t sure how long he sat there on his old street with the engine of his yet-to-be-built car running and his mind locked in disbelief. The people and their houses and cars were from another place and time.
He slid one of Sara’s favorite New Age CDs in the CD player and drove past an insane road show he hadn’t noticed prior to his arrival. 1960 and ’70 classic cars were everywhere he looked; he even passed a few from the 1950s. And their license plates were plain — authentic yellow and blue Pennsylvania plates like the ones nailed to the wall inside his garage back home; none were like the colorful and fancy wildlife one fastened to the back of his small, aerodynamic-designed Toyota.
He passed places restored from his childhood. Sam’s Western Auto, which would become a bar, and the movie theater, which would become Gordy Lamb’s used car dealership, were back. And Chester Daley’s dairy farm was in operation, yet to be bulldozed and its property made home to a Walmart Supercenter.
But how could this be?
John hurried away, hoping to drive his way back to normality. The cars he passed told him he was not getting closer to where he wanted to be. The BP filling station where he fueled up every weekend had changed its square green and yellow signs to red and blue oval ones with AMOCO AMERICAN GAS in white letters across their blue centers. Amoco’s gas was 47.9 cents for a gallon of regular, and he laughed like a loon as he drove to Myers Ridge and his home he knew would not be there. It wasn’t.
He parked next to the walnut and maple trees that grew along the land where his and Sara’s farmhouse would someday stand with a barn and dog house and two swing sets in the backyard. Someday, three children would grow up here. Andrew would go to college and become a TV director in Los Angeles. Haley and Becca would become a geologist and a nurse, respectively, and Becca would fall in love with a guy her old man would think wore too many tattoos on his arms.
But not now; not yet.
He shivered when a wave of entrapment and powerlessness crashed into him, and he nearly wept from the absurdity that had become his reality. For sanity’s sake, he had to find someone he knew; someone he could talk to and make sense of what had happened.
He turned around and drove back to Ridgewood, unsure of where he was going as he started over the railroad tracks on Jefferson Avenue where he had gone to watch high school football games when his children were in school. As he crossed the second of three tracks, he saw for the first time that the signal lights were flashing red. When the train plowed into his car, his only thought before he plummeted into darkness was When had they started using the abandoned railroad again?
He awoke weeks later broken, unable to move, a prisoner to cruel and sinister circumstances making him unable to communicate to the medical people around him. Without a name (he’d left his wallet at the cabin in another time, another place), they passed his bed and he went unnoticed whenever doctors and nurses weren’t checking his vital signs. Voiceless, he prayed for God to let him die. When that didn’t happen, he prayed for God to take away his memory of Sara and the life he’d left behind. Those prayers went unanswered as well.
Then one evening while a housekeeper cleaned his room, she found in his closet the crystal he had stowed in his pants pocket. It warmed and brightened in his hand when she brought it to him, and it made him feel alive again. He slept with it in his hand until a blonde-haired angel came to his bedside. Except for a green aura that glowed around her like the one coming from his crystal, she was the similitude of his cousin Karrie’s daughter, Verawenda.
The angel held out her hands and beckoned him to come.
He sat up for the first time and accepted her outstretched hands.
Whistling filled his ears. His bed rocked like a boat taking a large wake to the stern. His ears popped and his hands tingled and felt like they had been too close to a raging fire. As he hurried his fingertips to his tongue to relieve the burn, he realized he no longer held the crystal. When the ringing stopped and the ache in his fingers subsided, the angel was gone. So was the storm outside his car.
He got out and inspected where he thought lightning had struck the hood and turned portions of the car’s metallic blue color to an ashy gray. He saw no damage, so he hurried over hailstones as he went to remove the downed tree blocking his way.