In the Meantime, Part 2

book cover 1-5 400-640While 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.

When Vree Erickson magically passes through her mirror to her friend Dave Evans’s bedroom, she knows the entity is still alive inside her and wants Dave dead. There, she stands up to Angelina, the entity from the crystal powerful enough to destroy her and everyone she holds dear in life. She saves Dave’s life, but at a cost to her, one that leaves her friend Lenny Stevens believing that his act of painting Vree’s portrait can magically bring her back. He uses Sara Taylor (from “Kismet” and now almost 10 years old) as a model because she resembles Vree in appearance. Spoiler alert! He fails. Meanwhile, Vree passes unseen inside mirrors throughout Ridgewood, searching for a way out.

“In the Meantime” is the fifth installment of this version of The Green Crystal Stories—a riveting story propelling Vree and her friend Lenny Stevens deeper into mystery.

In the Meantime

We choreograph the crystal’s dance of light and color to mirror the dance of Creation.

Chapter 2 of 3: December 31, 2012

book05-newcoverDave Evans surrendered the gaze of his deep blue eyes to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air around him had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the very oxygen from the sunny sky over Myers Ridge.

“Bottom of the seventh. We need some runs,” Parker Evans said before he called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. His ragtag team sat on lawn chairs along third base. The hot chocolate in the red and white Igloo water dispenser on the middle chair had gone cold during the fifth inning. The snow in the backyard had turned to slush and the game was winding down. So was their day of fun.

“Cheer up,” he said to Dave before he took his spot as coach near third base.

Dave’s gaze wandered again to the barn and the small girl standing there. The afternoon sun seemed to spark Krissy Tyree’s long, soft brown hair. A halo of green surrounded her, but it did not diminish the brightness of white funeral dress she wore. Dave practically hugged himself from a chill gripping his back. He thought about telling someone about the ghost, but quashed the idea when she glared at him.

On the field, the dead girl’s dad, Huritt Tyree, laced a hit over the second baseman’s head. The forty-something man could have had a double in his younger years. He stopped at first base and clapped, cheering for Becky Jones to bring him home and tie the game. Dave tore his gaze from Krissy and watched his neighbor from Russell Road lace a hot single past third base. The slush kept the yellow softball from going far and several players slipped and fell while running to it. Huritt took advantage of their mishaps and advanced to third, landing on his backside when the plywood base slipped from under him. Laughter erupted from everyone but Dave. He felt Krissy’s icy stare on him and remembered the day he had killed her.

“Put someone else in,” he said to his dad.

“The game’s almost over. Just try to score Huritt from third and get Becky in scoring position. But if not, try to look like you’re having fun. You were smiling until a moment ago. What happened?”

Dave thought about the green ghost watching him. Hard fingers of anxiety clawed at his throat. The angry look on her face made him certain she hated him.

As he shuffled to the batter’s box, his mom, the catcher, asked if he felt okay. The soothing sound of her voice made him want to rush to her arms.

“I’m fine,” he said and swung his bat at his sister Amy, the pitcher. He choked when he saw Krissy’s ghost appear behind her and glare at him. He stumbled from the batter’s box and coughed fitfully, catching his breath.

No one else seemed to see the ghost. Not even his best friend Lenny Stevens who watched from center field.

Liz Evans went to him and patted his back. Her parental love and concern would have been comforting if Krissy’s voice were not taunting him with “No batter no batter no batter.”

He recalled Huritt Tyree giving Krissy CPR and praying aloud for the girl lying unconscious in the dirt.

I prayed, too. I prayed and cried all night. That should have been good enough.

Krissy’s face scowled. Her mouth snarled at him. Anger burned from her eyes.

Dave spat away the bitter taste in his mouth.

Why are you here, Krissy? Why do you hate me after all this time?

Krissy’s green spirit rushed to him, made him feel the pain as she took hold of his mind and showed him the moment when the baseball had crushed her sternum.

His heart fluttered, and then stopped beating. He fell to his knees and tried hard to inhale, but his lungs had stopped working.

Why are you doing this?

Krissy was silent.

His mom called his name. Her voice sounded far away, yet she was on her knees next to him and peering at his face. He pushed up his sweatshirt’s left sleeve and showed the makeshift tattoo. Inside the heart was the name Krissy; below that was the word Always.

I did it myself, to always remember you.

There was a long moment when he thought he would black out. He held on and showed her the memory of when the ER doctor treated and bandaged the infected tattoo, and how he had upset his parents by carelessly risking his health.

The memory mixed with a foggy green light that enveloped him, and then stopped. He floated on his back inside the light, alone, and unable to move.

“I don’t want to die,” he said finally, wondering if this was indeed death. His eyes stung and threatened to flood with tears.

He blinked. When he looked again, Vree Erickson appeared at his right side and stood over him. She glowed green and bright like a phantom of night.

“I won’t let you do this,” she said.

“Do what?” he asked. “What’s happening to me?”

“He has to be punished.” A deeper feminine voice exploded as a woman with long hair — burnt sienna, gold, and black — stepped in view on his left. She wore a scarlet silk robe and burned dark eyes at Vree from within swirling green light.

“You’re not God, Angelina,” Vree shouted at her. “You have no right.”

“He must die, Vree Erickson. It is by the decree of my lord.”

“Why?” Vree thundered. “Krissy’s death was accidental. There is no one to blame for her death. But Dave’s death will be senseless. If you kill him, you are worse than the people of whom you pass judgment and sentence.”

“My lord has sentenced him. There is still grieving for what could have been but never will be.”

“No one is grieving. Dave and Krissy’s parents picked up their pieces and moved on, remembering their love of Karrie because death did not erase the life they shared.”

The woman Vree called Angelina hissed. “The older ones grieve. They still pray for resolution.”

“Some people never stop grieving because they don’t know the path to peace,” Vree said, “For that, we have wars. And by their logic, all of mankind should die. Including me.”

Angelina was silent.

Then, a girlish voice’s words chimed around them like musical bells. “I don’t hate him, Angelina. I don’t want him to die.”

Dave smiled as he heard and remembered Krissy’s voice. He wanted to see her and said so, but she remained unseen. Fat tears rolled to the tragus of his ears.

“I’ve missed you so much,” he said.

“Do you remember the summer days when we laid on our backs and stared up at bright blue skies and wispy white clouds?” Krissy said to him.

“I think of those times a lot. I see you every time I look at clouds. It saddens me to know I will never be able to hold your hand or smell your hair or … or ever kiss you.”

“Do not weep for me,” Krissy said and said no more.

“Very well,” Angelina said. She looked down at Dave. Her brow contracted in a scowl and her face within the green fog darkened to a sulkier green. “You are forgiven, David Evans. Live to trespass no more and the wrath of my lord will never prosecute you again.” She became like viridian smoke and vanished.

“You mean persecute,” Vree said before she also vanished.

The green, foggy light and the background ringing in Dave’s ears lifted from him. Wonderful air filled his lungs. He drank it in and gasped from the sudden euphoria he felt.

Parker, who now held him by the left arm and shoulder, brought him to his feet and asked if he was okay. He coughed and sputtered and fell against his mom who stood at his right. Though a few inches shorter and ten pounds lighter, she held her son’s weight and embraced him.

“I’m okay,” he said. “Got a little dizzy, that’s all.” He looked around and realized that only a few seconds had passed. Something important had happened, but most of his memory of it and seeing Krissy’s ghost had rushed away the moment he had stood.

“Can we play ball now?” he said. “I have some runs to score.” He looked at third base and raised his voice. “Isn’t that right, Mr. Tyree?”

“Bring me home, son,” Huritt said as he clapped large hands together. “Bring me home.”

~ ~ ~

Vree now stood at Amy’s bedroom window again. She watched Dave Evans hit a double past Lenny Stevens. Krissy’s dad scored and so did Becky Jones. The game ended and most of the players on the field headed for the third base side and the cold chocolate drink in the Igloo dispenser. Some of her neighbors began picking up ball gloves and other equipment; her parents and a few others headed toward Parker Evans’s farmhouse. Vree dashed away and hurried through the door at Dave’s room that magically entered her own bedroom. She spun and faced her window.

Was the doorway to her room still visible at the farmhouse?

She hoped not while she parted the curtains, glanced at the window, then picked up the mirror and looked for the door in it. No matter what angle she held the mirror, the doorway to Dave’s room was gone.

A sudden green cloud filled the mirror glass. Angelina’s unhappy face appeared at its center.

“You defied me,” she said.

Vree looked long at the crystal’s ancient entity, then said, “I’m not sorry if you’re angry at me, but I couldn’t let you kill a friend … a boy, of all people.”

Angelina smiled. Then she laughed. Her canine teeth were long and made Vree think of vampires.

“That’s what you are,” Vree said. “You take the lives of others to feed your master.”

“Foolish girl. My master, as you call him, does not feed. He is and always will be.”

“I don’t believe you. These deaths didn’t start until I found you inside the crystal.”

“Our crystals are everywhere. This is not the first time someone has unearthed us and unleashed our power to serve our lord. When you prayed for warmth and protection inside the hole, and when you desired escape, our lord gave you them. When you saw your mother in harm’s clutches, you cherished her life. And when her kidnapper—”

“I didn’t kill him … you did. You killed them all and made me watch.”

“You unleashed me and accepted our lord’s commandment, and then changed heart. You thought that returning the crystal would stop my existence or the prophecy of our lord’s ascendance.” Angelina laughed again. “Silly child. Even you have a saying about letting a genie out of its lamp. I am unleashed, thy will of our lord to obey. You cannot stop us, Verawenda Erickson.”

A tendril of green light flew from the mirror, wrapped around Vree, and pulled her inside.

The mirror fell to the carpet and shattered.

Chapter 3 of 3: June 29, 2013

It was almost four o’clock that Saturday summer afternoon when Lenny Stevens picked a housefly from a mound of oil paint on his canvas. The north end of his parent’s front porch was now part of his makeshift artist’s studio. Heat blistered the air despite the shade and an electric fan blowing a cool breeze from one of three card tables. A young girl in a yellow summer dress reclined on a lounge chair covered in multicolored satin pillows. Her hair was the color of fine gold, her cheeks ruby-red, her smiling eyes like sapphire pools. She glowed of extraordinary purity like a summer sunset in a garden of carnations and lilies.

Well, maybe not the latter, but Lenny liked the poetic way it sounded and how much saying “A summer sunset in a garden of carnations and lilies” reminded him of Vree Erickson.

His newfound model, Sara Taylor, was nine — “Nine-and-a-half,” she’d told him — almost seven years younger than Vree and him. But she owned a beauty similar to Vree’s that he desired to capture on canvas — the way he should have done the first day he had met Vree. Yet the very thing he desired to paint distracted him, filled his heart with a want to have Vree back, to see her lounging on the chair instead of Sara.

The daughter of the woman who owned the bookstore downtown raised a delicate eyebrow and curled up a smile at the corner of her mouth.

“My parents say I can invite you to dinner tonight,” she said. “I hope you like Chicken à la caléndonienne.”

Her voice was the light tinkling of wind chimes in a gentle breeze; the very voice that had sung to him five weeks ago about his amateurish paintings of Vree being absolutely beautiful and emotional and heartfelt.

“With practice you’ll get better,” she had told him. “You can practice painting me, if you’d like.”

Now, anxiety passed over his face.

“Who am I kidding? Vree was the artist. No matter how well I try to paint her image, it won’t bring her back.”

Still, the hope that Vree could return by magical means glimmered in his eyes. She had been his true love, the only girl in Ridgewood who had ever been able to reach inside and steal his heart. Being with Vree had made everything in his life seem perfect.

He sucked in a deep breath to help settle his anxiety.

“Chicken à la caléndonienne,” Sara repeated.

“Chicken à la caléndonienne?” Lenny said with a voice like a steel breeze from winter’s coldest hour. “What’s that?”

“Chicken baked in butter, parsley and lemon juice. It’s good.”

It sounded good but Lenny dared not admit it. He said, “Hmmm,” instead and adjusted his paint-splattered smock. Then he took a long flat paintbrush and spread white oil paint across his palette. The milky hue merged into a puddle of yellow, crimson and blue paint until he was certain he had the right color. He approached the large easel with its canvas positioned at eye level, dashed a shaky stroke of color across the fabric, and studied again the face of the young girl he was painting.

He saw it then, it was a look in her eyes: puppy love. He put down the brush, tossed his palette and other brushes on a card table and told Sara the session was over.

“Patience, she reminded him as she rose from the love seat.

“Yes, patience and practice, patience and practice,” he huffed, and then backed down as soon as he saw her amorous face peer at him.

“You’re a really cute guy, Lenny Stevens, and you have talent to be a great artist someday.” She smiled.

“I’m too old for you,” Lenny said.

Sara’s smile remained. “When you’re ninety-five and I’m eighty-nine, our age difference won’t seem like a big deal.”

“I have a girlfriend.”

“Tell me,” she said, releasing the smile and letting a frown crease her brow. “I want to know what happened to her.” She sat on a metal stool next to the card table cluttered with paint tubes and brushes, picked up an art book and rested it on her lap.

She had helped him find that book on painting people and portraits the day he’d gone to Peggy’s Good Used Books, convinced that he could become a better artist overnight simply by reading a how-to book. He needed to become a better artist so he could paint a true portrait of Vree. And if he painted enough portraits, then Vree would come back.

That’s how magic works.

When he finally spoke, his voice was like faraway thunder as he told her everything he knew about Vree and the magic green crystal she had found in the sinkhole of her backyard.

“She told me she had thrown it back just before her parents had the hole filled. That’s the last time I spoke to her. The police think she ran away from home, but I don’t believe it. Nobody who knew Vree believes that.” He went to the lounge chair, sat, and looked long at his palette of paint next to his easel. Sara scooted the stool closer to him.

“Please don’t stop,” she said. “I want to know what happened.”

“The crystal has her,” he said.

“It has her? What do you mean?”

“Vree seemed afraid, like there was something wrong about that crystal. I think she was right and it took her.”

“Where? How? I thought she threw it in the sinkhole.”

“I don’t know where or how. But I know she didn’t run away. That’s not Vree.”

“If you want, I can help you look for her.” Sara’s smile returned. It was crooked but beautiful all the same.

Lenny shook his head.

Sara looked away, out at the evening sun casting shadows across the neighborhood. “It’s getting late,” she said. She stood and stepped into the sunlight. “Come have dinner at my place. Go ask your mom.” The evening sun dazzled her body in golden hues.

“The light,” Lenny cried. “That’s it. Stay there.” He went to his easel and grabbed some brushes and his palette. “Don’t move,” he said as he scrubbed away paint with a rag and sketched her with new lines of umber and sienna. He whisked in golden hues next to gentle blues and pink. He formed the glow of her flesh with buttery mounds of paint until the sunlight moved west and left her in shadow. Then he added from memory Vree’s face as best he could.

“It isn’t her,” he said when he stopped painting. He sat and rested and, laying his head back, closed his eyes.

Sara went to him, leaned over his face and pressed her lips against his.

Lenny pushed her away, but the kiss had stirred his soul.

“No,” he said fighting the passion that burned in his heart and made it difficult to breathe. “I can’t.”

“I really like you,” she said.

He stood and covered the painting with a white linen sheet. He said, “I have to find out what happened to her.”

Sara turned to go, then stopped and said, “I’ll help you all I can … if you’ll let me.”

“You’re too young. You’re just a girl,” he said, his voice barely audible. He listened to Sara leave the porch, get on her bicycle and ride away.

Lost in troubled thoughts and memories, he sat on the porch and watched twilight turn to night, long after his mother called him inside to eat.

She came to the door and checked on him at eleven o’clock, then left him alone. Lenny took the shard of Vree’s broken mirror — the piece he had taken from her bedroom when Mrs. Erickson allowed him inside — and fell asleep where he sat, a lonely boy waiting for the girl he loved to return.

She passed unseen in the mirrors throughout Ridgewood, including the shard in Lenny’s hand, searching for a way out.

In his sleep, Lenny dreamt of her. In his sleep, he smiled and loved again.

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