Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 5)

Margga’s Curse, revised: Putting the “I” In Vree

I know, I know … you would rather see my artwork and photography than read my writing. At least, that’s what the few views and modest amount of likes tell me every time I post in my writing section. So, for the handful of followers who enjoy my writing, here’s the continuation of my attempt to rewrite Night of the Hellhounds, or accurately, Margga’s Curse.

Not long after I published Night of the Hellhounds with its new title at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and other ebook outlets, and felt done with it, ready to work out the kinks in the second novel, a fan of my stories—and probably my only fan—admitted that he liked my short story better than the novel.

“What’s wrong with the novel?” I asked.

“I don’t like the parts with Vree being a wimp and running away from her problems. Or the parts with the Roualens—they don’t seem important to the story. You should get rid of them and the spaceship … Lenny too. His parts in the story were boring when it was about him at the dinner table and the restaurant. This is Vree’s story and her problems with magic and dealing with Margga who wants to take away her magic. You should have told it only from her perspective.”

Finally! Some honest criticism, albeit late in the game.

“But, not everyone likes reading limited point-of-view stories,” I said. Especially me. And especially when the narrative is written in first person.

“I do,” he said. “I don’t like stories that go off in tangents. Tangents tend to reveal information early in the story that takes away from the surprise and drama at the end.”

“Would you like to read an earlier draft of Margga’s Curse?” I asked, pulling an ace from my sleeve. I have a habit of writing in first person point of view when I write a first draft, then change everything to third person point of view by the final draft. I still had the draft with everything told from Vree’s point of view.

He said he did, so I gave him a copy. Weeks later, he said it was as good as the original short story and a lot better than the novel, though he still didn’t care about the Roualens.

But was it better? I had my doubts.

By 2016, I still hadn’t finished Vree’s second novel. I had lost interest in the character, so I moved on to other projects. Over the summer, I was cleaning files from my computer when I found all the drafts of Night of the Hellhounds/Margga’s Curse. I read the first-person draft again, found I liked it, and made a 5-point list why.

  1. The introduction of Vree extends a friendly hand to the reader—a much warmer intro than when she was introduced in third person point of view.
  2. Because first person point of view is a limited scope to work with, Vree cannot tell the reader things that happen offstage. She and the reader are kept in the dark and must rely on revelations. Revealing actions create suspense or foreboding, and empathetic curiosity. A little mystery keeps everyone wanting to find out more.
  3. Vree’s voice makes her identifiable and adds to her personality from the start, which was something I had to build when I wrote her as a third-person-point-of-view character. And because she’s a constant active character, we have a stronger sense of her as a real person who has choices and can make decisions of her own free will. We see the experience from her immediate perspective.
  4. Vree can confide in the reader with secrets and intimate revelations, creating curiosity and making the reader invest in the story.
  5. Writing in first person point of view allows me, unfortunately, to use filter words. Filter words are I saw, I heard, I smelled, I thought, etc. I find it necessary to reread my first-person stories and eliminate filter words, to let the reader see the action through Vree’s eyes. “I saw the brown and shaggy dog,” makes the reader watch Vree see the dog. “The dog was brown and shaggy,” lets the reader see what Vree sees, and closes the distance between the reader and her. “I heard the music, tinny and spooky and weird,” vs. “The music was tinny and spooky and weird.” One is outside, watching Vree listen; the other is inside her head, hearing it with her. Filter words aren’t always bad. “I see the shelves, and I see the counter, but I don’t see the magic potion.” This is describing the act of seeing explicitly and conveys Vree’s frustration at not finding what she’s looking for.

So, for the sake of experiment, I am publishing the first-person story at my website/blog, after making a major change: I swapped the Roualen story for one of Margga’s hellhounds nosing the grounds and being vicious.

Night of the Hellhounds 4.2: Margga’s Curse, 2015 (first person point of view)

I have decided not to publish this version at any of the ebook outlets I use. This version is exclusive here, presented over time at one chapter at a time. A drawback when telling a first-person POV story is dealing with backstory information. It needs to be sprinkled about—never clumped in the middle of a story. Many unskilled authors clump their backstory—it’s like a mandatory siesta from the main problem and goal, and it makes me impatient for the main characters to wake up and return to action. Another thing about backstory—excuse me for climbing on my soapbox—but too many serial television programs are killing their shows with excessive character backstory. I remember it happening a lot in the series Lost. Now it seems that everyone writing TV shows is doing it. And I’m tired of it. As a viewer, I’m not in love with the main character’s personal life as much as the script writers are. Stop it. Stop reasoning every main character’s action with pseudo-psychology and get on with the plot. Give us character details in small doses, told (or shown) to us over time.

’Nuff said. Now

Chapter 1

AT 2:50 P.M. ON JUNE nineteenth, while I readied the backyard for my fifteenth birthday, I dodged mowing over an exposed tree root, but I didn’t see my brother’s baseball glove until Daddy’s John Deere riding mower was inches away. Then … BAM. The leather glove wedged inside the mower’s deck and stopped the blade.

Click here to read more

Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 3)

Chapter 3: Vree’s Comeback

Not long after I published “Hell Hounds” (Night of the Hellhounds 2.0) and the alternate ending version (Night of the Hellhounds 2.1), I found the original draft in a box of high school papers and notebooks. I knew I wanted to bring Vree Erickson back, so I took to the keyboard and composed a story similar to the original.

Night of the Hellhounds 3.0: The Amazon Short Story

02-cover-trial-1000x1600I’m one of those people who picks at scabs; I can’t leave well-enough alone.

However, it was not an immediate decision to tell again the story of ghost dogs terrorizing some local teenagers on Myers Ridge. I was busy making artwork, working 36 hours a week at the neighborhood Wal-Mart Supercenter, presiding twice a month for almost nine years over a group of local writers, and writing other stories for local publication at book fairs and craft shows.

By 2012, after I semi-retired from making art, stepped down as president of my writers group, and saw my hours at Wal-Mart dwindle because of corporate greed, I found myself with more time to write. I rediscovered the original ghost dogs story and began making changes, though I left in the names of the original characters. It was fun seeing Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson play out again on the pages. It definitely took me back to my teen years and brought back pleasant memories. Not everyone’s childhood is as bad as psychologists would have us believe.

Around the same time I was “playing” with Lenny and the gang, I was reading ebooks via a Kindle reader my wife had gifted me, and some friends said, “Hey, Steve, did you know you can publish your own books through Amazon so other people with Kindles can read them?”

I did not.

I wasn’t new to e-publishing; I had published several books via the PDF platform, so I looked into publishing via Amazon. They hooked me like a hungry bass when they offered me a real honest-to-goodness author page. So, I set about converting my rewritten ghost dogs story into language the Kindle would recognize.

I published “Night of the Hell Hounds” January 7, 2013.

The following day, my book received a 5-star review that had this to say: More please! Mr. Campbell has started something with this story that I truly hope he intends to continue for a long time to come and soon I hope. This may be his first time in print but you can still tell how much he cares for the story and its characters by the level of detail he uses. “Night of the Hell Hounds” may be a short story in form but it has the heart of something much larger and I shall be checking often for additions to the story.

More? Continue? Something larger?

Could I?

When my second 5-star review came in, I decided I could.

This short story acts like the first chapter of a book you do not want to put down. Although you meet several familiar tropes and may even be tempted to shrug off the Rockwellian setting, the book hardens back to the scary stories you loved as a kid. The characters go from telling ghost stories to living one, and just when you think the other is going to “Scooby Doo” his way out of committing to a certain story arch, THAT’S when you want to keep reading and see what else this world has to offer. I, for one, can’t wait for the next installment.

Upon rereading the story, I saw that I had left in the original cliffhanger. No wonder my readers wanted more. So, I scrambled and found an old story called “Trespasser” that I felt would be a fun platform for Vree Erickson to play on. From there, The Ridgewood Chronicles was born.

Since then, I have offered the book for free, though Amazon was hard-pressed about giving it away. So, I reprinted the story on my blog. You can read it by clicking here, or continue scrolling and read it below as teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson encounter ghosts and demons and struggle to survive atop mysterious Myers Ridge.

The Story

It was the weekend after Halloween, dark and cold on the night Lenny Stevens parked his Schwinn next to the garage at Dave Evans’s place on Myers Ridge. Dave had told him he would be behind his dad’s barn. Lenny found him there, roasting hot dogs on a stick at a fire that failed to advance any warmth. His tent was set up behind him, and his twin sister Amy had her own tent behind her. She sat cross-legged across the fire from Dave, whispering and giggling with Vree Erickson. Lenny’s heart pattered while his gaze caressed Vree’s long hair looking golden in the firelight. Amy saw him, patted her sleeping bag and told him to sit next to her. He did, sandwiching himself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over their shoulders. He quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.

They wore sweatshirts and blue jeans and jackets to ward off the night’s chill, and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful to Lenny. He said hello to her and she nodded, smiled, and remained silent while Amy controlled the conversation about Mr. Baretti—a tenth grade teacher she didn’t like. When she finished, Lenny opened his mouth to make small talk with Vree. He never got a word out.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Dave said, seeming to awaken from the trance the fire had put him in. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.”

The old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion was to Lenny’s right and at the bottom of a hill. It languished inside a thicket of property almost a hundred yards away and barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover then, so he squinted to see the spooky remnants of the mansion destroyed in June by an unknown arsonist. The police were still investigating the fire and Lenny and his friends had their suspicions of the culprit—he figured it was Craig Coleman and his gang of toadies who liked to smoke and drink there, even though the place was supposed to be haunted.

“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. She gave him her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Always with the ghosts.”

He looked again at the house, excited about this new turn of events. The once prominent house had been built ninety years ago by a once-famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood before he and his wife mysteriously disappeared.

“You saw Myers and his wife’s ghosts?” he asked.

“Apparitions of some dogs,” Dave said; “three of them as plain as day. They vanished right before you came.”

“You saw his dogs? The hunting dogs that froze to death?” Lenny almost dropped his hotdog while he fumbled to pierce it with the stick.

“How did they freeze?” Vree asked. She, who had moved last year to Ridgewood, inched closer to Lenny. He began to tell her when Amy interrupted.

“It’s a dumb story that says the county sheriff found Benjamin Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house on a hot summer day.”

“It isn’t dumb,” Dave said.

“Yes, it is. I checked the town’s newspaper archives that time I did an English paper about Cathleen and Benjamin Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house the day they disappeared.”

“So, how did they disappear?” Vree pressed closer to Lenny when she said this.

“No one knows,” he said as he relished the feel of her body against his; “but it started a half-century of ghost stories.”

“The police concluded that Mr. and Mrs. Myers died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean,” Amy said.

“Which isn’t official,” Dave added. “Myers and his wife always flew using pseudonyms, and no bodies or substantial wreckage were ever found, which means there’s no confirmation that they died at sea.”

Amy sounded irritated when she groaned. “It makes more sense than believing that he and his dogs froze to death, or that Cathleen jumped to her death at the bottom of Widow’s Ravine.”

Lenny glanced at where a trickling stream separated the two properties. A half-mile away to his left, the stream fell into a steep-sided gorge called Widow’s Ravine, a place that the rest of the legend claims Cathleen Myers jumped to her death after she found her husband and his dogs frozen. He told Vree about the legend and added, “Her screams can be heard whenever her ghost relives the suicide and plunges into the ravine.”

Read More »

Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 2)

Chapter 2: Rewrites, Rewrites, Rewrites

Sometime while I was in high school, I decided to rewrite “Ghost Dogs.”

Night of the Hellhounds 2.0: Hell Hounds

nothThis was the first time I changed the title to “Hell Hounds,” and then later to “Night of the Hellhounds.” It’s basically the same story: some teenagers are on Myers Ridge and they meet malevolent ghost dogs that put someone’s life in danger. During the first rewrite, I took myself out as the point-of-view character and wrote from the perspective of a girl. I’m sure it was the result of a classroom assignment.

Text of the following short story is copyright © 1974 when I finished scribbling it down in a notebook, and 1985 when I typed it into a word processor at college. The language became stronger than what I wrote in high school because of the age of the readers reading my work. I even wrote an alternate ending at a friend’s request. That text was renewed in 2002 when I published it at my old (and no-longer-available) website.

This is the PDF version offered above at my Books section. For a quick download click here.

The story is a bit long but I think if you stay with it you’ll find it fun to read. Comments are welcome, so please consider dropping me a line or two below.

The Story

My name is Nancy Louise Johnson. I’ll never forget the night I almost died. Ghostly hellhounds were snapping at my heels when I slipped on some gravel and fell over the steepest side of Myers Ridge.

The day began like most August days in Ridgewood, Pennsylvania: hot and humid. Every hour, the weatherman at our local radio station promised more of the same, and every hour since seven o’clock that morning my twelve-year-old sister Krissy groaned from her spot in Dad’s huge recliner. It was Friday and as usual, I was babysitting. Dad was at work and Mom and my big brother Ted were shopping in nearby New Cambridge for a new air conditioner.

I pulled the legs of my blue jean shorts away from my sweaty skin as I shifted from a sitting position to a reclining one on Mom’s plushy sofa. After finding a cool spot on the middle cushion, I leafed through another romance paperback from the bag of books Ted’s fiancée Jeanette had given me. Buxom women and muscular men seduced and cheated on each other in graphic description. I threw the book back into the bag and looked over at Krissy.

She lay semi-naked in pink bikini, sprawled out like a Hollywood corpse, her summer tan looking dark in the dim light of the living room. An oscillating fan blew on her every fifteen seconds and tried to lift her flaccid blonde hair away from her forehead and from around her sweaty cheeks. The arid breeze merely flicked the ruffles on her beachwear and rustled the pages of her beauty magazine. I dropped the bag of books next to her. She looked up with blue eyes opened in wonderment.

“What’s up, Nanny Lou?”

“Knock yourself out,” I said before I made my way to the kitchen.

My family calls me Nanny Lou—short for Nancy Louise, but I prefer to be called Nance. Nanny Lou’s more of a girl’s name and I’ve not been comfortable being a girl ever since I developed breasts and discovered boys stop looking at girls face to face when that happens.

The doorbell rang and took me away from peering into the refrigerator.

I’ll get it,” I said and headed for the front door. Krissy sprang up at my heels and followed me to the sun porch where my once long-time friend Dave Evans stood at the front door and peered in at me through the screen. I stopped and frowned when I recognized his face through the screen’s murky grayness. I crossed my arms over my chest if he should want to look there.

“Can we talk?” Dave asked.

I almost said no, but Krissy interrupted me to tell him the door was unlocked. I turned to her and replaced her flirty smile with a pout when I ordered her to return to the living room. She stomped away and when I turned back, Dave stood inside. Unlike me whose red hair and freckles seem to emit beacons of light and attract unwanted attention everywhere I go, Dave stood there looking average: medium height and weight, auburn hair, blue eyes and all—the kind of guy who blends into a crowd.

I started to ask him what he wanted, and then stopped. He wore a long-sleeved pullover shirt and heavy blue jeans and wasn’t even sweating! So okay, that part about him would certainly keep him from blending completely into a crowd.

“What’s up?” I asked, a little too icily.

“Can we talk?” This time his question sounded urgent instead of inquisitive.

“It’s been a while,” I reminded him.

“A long while.”

I pondered this before I nodded and led him inside. I pointed to the ceiling. “You don’t mind, do you?”

He managed a squeaky no and gave away his unease.

“Going to my room,” I hollered to Krissy.

“Turning on TV,” she hollered back.

Upstairs and at the back of the house, my tiny bedroom was a hotbox during summer afternoons. A small breeze coming through my window screen actually made the moment bearable. Dave sacked out in my beanbag chair—the one he bought me last year for my sixteenth birthday.

My dresser and nightstand were littered with swimming and softball trophies. He studied the softball batting trophy I had won two months earlier, the only Junior in our school’s history to ever beat out the entire Senior squad. Preparing to brag about my feat, he interrupted me when he cleared his throat loudly.

“I have something I need to get off my chest,” he said, and with that said he added, “I’m sorry.”

The apology seemed dry and forced, and I surprised myself when I accepted it. I cursed myself silently.

Dave sorely smiled at me and I launched into all the reasons I should have said no. After all, he had taken advantage of me during my time of need. I didn’t want him to think I’d completely forgiven him just yet. I wanted him to remember that our reckless time together last winter had tarnished our friendship. When I had needed him most, he had let me down. I still hated him for that!

He waved at me, caught my attention, and told me the date.

“August twenty-third,” he said. It’s tomorrow.”

I sat next to my orange tabby cat Ginger asleep on my bed and listened to his plan to go camping that night on haunted Myers Ridge. Dave and I had gone there since we were kids. First with my brother Ted and his friends, and then by ourselves. And even though we’d never seen any ghosts there, the legend of Ben Myers drew us there every year. In fact, Dave and I and a boy named Jerry Hopper ever camped there anymore, waiting for a glimpse of the hill’s namesake.

But I was no longer that girl—the flat-chested tomboy who used to fit in easily with the guys until my DNA had decided in January to show everyone otherwise. And Dave was not really as medium looking as I pictured him. He had grown a few inches since our high school graduation and had filled out some in the shoulders and chest. Camping at night with an attractive boy seemed like an unwise thing to do, especially when that boy had told me he loved me and then tried to make out with me.

Before I could turn down his invitation, heavy footsteps and breathing drew close to my door. The footsteps stopped and meaty knuckles rapped against the doorframe. Then Jerry Hopper’s short, two-hundred pound frame entered my room and dropped to the floor between Dave and me. His red AC/DC T-shirt clung to him like soggy plastic wrap, and the waist of his blue jeans had fallen several inches below the tops of his bright white underpants. He gasped for air and tried to speak. After several attempts, he said to me, “Krissy said … you were up here.” He turned to Dave and asked, “Did you ask her? Is it okay?”

Read More »

Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 1)

Chapter 1: The Beginning

nothThose of you who have read this blog since 2012 know that I wrote a short story called “The Ghost Dogs” when I was 13 years old and an eighth-grader at my small town high school in northwest Pennsylvania. Until then, I was an avid reader who occasionally wrote stories for class assignments. Things changed when my parents bought me a portable typewriter. How could I not become a writer when I had such a wonderful tool at hand?

The year was 1970. Music was a big deal on TV as well as the radio, so I wrote a short story about a 13-year-old boy who played lead guitar in his high school rock band. From there, a continuing character was born: David Evans. David’s names came from the spooky TV soap opera, Dark Shadows. That show, along with reading Dracula and Eerie and Creepy magazines influenced some of my stories.

I fell in love with creating make-believe worlds the moment I typed my first story. I followed the conventions of storytelling, of course, but I rarely wrote endings to my stories. I wrote cliffhangers so my readers would want to read the next story. Comic books did this, so I did the same. My readers loved it.

I wrote all my stories in first person point of view. At first, Dave was the narrator in his fictional world, which I named Ridgewood. But then I chose to do something novel: write myself into the stories and interact with the characters I created. It made story writing a thrill to do. I loved every minute of it.

Dave and his best friend Leonard Stevens were in the same grade at Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. Lenny’s names were a mix of my own (although Leonard was a stretch of my middle name). His last name would change to Armstrong in 1972, but he was rambunctious Lenny Stevens for two gratifying years of writing young teen adventure stories about Dave and him.

Night of the Hellhounds 1.0: The Ghost Dogs

Faithful readers of this blog may remember that Dave and Lenny were the central characters in “The Ghost Dogs” along with Dave’s twin sister, Amy, and her best friend, Verawenda Erickson. Except for Lenny and me, the others lived on Myers Ridge, a hillside farming community on the western outskirts of Ridgewood. Lenny was a “townie” and I was a visitor from a neighboring city called New Cambridge.

Myers Ridge was well-known by folks in and around Ridgewood for its caves, abandoned mines, a few sinkholes and precipitous hillside, and the occasional sightings of Norman Myers’s ghost. In 1891, Norman Myers found gold on his property atop the ridge. For a decade, he and his family hauled out ores and precious metals and occasionally squabbled over mining rights. Then, according to legend, Norman’s mines dried up ten years later, on the very anniversary of his discovery. Not long afterwards, Norman disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Some suspected he was murdered by James McCoy, an angry business partner. Soon afterward, family claimed to see Norman’s ghost haunting the hill. They claimed his body lay inside one of his many abandoned mines, and would haunt the land until his body was found and given a proper burial. That never happened, so the ghost sightings continued throughout my high school years.

Another weird occurrence was the sighting of another ghost named Myers: Norman’s son, Benjamin. Ben Myers was a famous playwright who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood during the 1930s. He and his wife Cathleen (whose whole name was Ademia Consuela Ramona Cathleen Savakis) lived in California but summered at their estate on Myers Ridge until one fateful summer when he and his hunting dogs were found frozen inside the house. Cathleen died soon afterwards after either falling or by being pushed from a steep section of Myers Ridge called Widow’s Ravine. In “The Ghost Dogs” Ben’s ghost and those of his dogs haunt the estate grounds next door to Dave and Amy’s house. And Cathleen’s spirit cries from the depths of Widow’s Ravine.

Those spooky occurrences became part of my story’s theme and made it a delight to write. Another delight was developing a bigger role for Verawenda “Vree” Erickson. She got her nickname because of her initials VRE (Renée was her middle name). She lived as an only child with her parents in a farmhouse down the road from Dave and Amy.

The Story

It happened that my visits to Ridgewood became weird the Halloween night of 1970 when I sat at my typewriter after supper and went to visit Dave and Lenny. They were behind the barn at Dave’s parent’s place on Myers Ridge, roasting hot dogs on a stick at a fire that failed to advance any warmth when I stood next to it. Dave’s A-frame tent was still set up behind him and Lenny from our September get-togethers, and Dave’s twin sister Amy had her own A-frame tent behind her. Sitting next to her was Vree. My heart pattered while I stared at Vree’s long dirty-blonde hair looking golden in the firelight. She and Amy sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, whispering and giggling. When Amy saw me, she patted her sleeping bag and told me to sit next to her. I did, sandwiching myself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over our shoulders. I quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.

We all wore sweatshirts and jackets and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful. I said hello to her and she nodded and smiled and remained silent while Amy controlled the conversation about a teacher she didn’t like. When she finished, I opened my mouth to make small talk with Vree, but never got a word out when Dave interrupted.

“I’m glad you’re here,” he said from across the fire. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.”

I had to turn around since the old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion languished inside a thicket of property below the side yard behind me. The place was barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover above us, so I squinted to see the spooky remnants of the Myers house destroyed by fire years ago.

“What am I supposed to see?” I said. I knew that the once prominent house had been built ninety years ago by a famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood, before he disappeared.

“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. She gave me her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Always with the ghosts.”

I looked again at where a grand house had once stood, excited about this new turn of events. “You saw ghosts?”

“Apparitions of some dogs, actually,” Lenny said, grinning wide. “But ghosts all the same.”

“That’s right,” Dave said. “Three of them as plain as day. Then they vanished when I told the girls. But Lenny and I saw them again right before you came.”

“You saw ghost dogs?” I asked.

Although I had created this world, there was much about it I was still inventing and developing. Every visit was a discovery that got added to my notes.

“Myers bred hunting dogs,” Lenny said between large bites taken from a roasted hotdog. “Then one hot summer day he and his dogs froze to death inside the house.”

Amy groaned. “I can’t believe you think that silly legend really happened.”

“What legend is that?” I asked her.

She sighed and was reluctant to talk about it. Dave began to tell me when she interrupted him.

“It’s a dumb story that says the county sheriff found Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house. I checked the town’s newspaper archives when I did an English paper about Ben Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house when he and his wife Cathleen disappeared.”

“You probably didn’t research hard enough,” Dave said.

Amy glared at him. “I researched it just fine. I even found their obituaries at the library. The police concluded that they died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean.”

Read More »

Old Bones: Different Perspectives

A short story from my book Old Bones.

*

THE COFFEEHOUSE WINDOW Larry sat beside reminded him of sitting in his car at the carwash. Except, this wasn’t Get Wet Express. This was another rainy day in Ridgewood, at Mabel’s, on Monday, around eight-thirty in the morning, and he sat across his sister Elaine, her lined face drawn up in a smile for a moment before her naked lips pursed and she blew gently at the steam rising from her white cup. Her blue eyes twinkled despite the fact that she had lost her husband a week ago.

“Damn weather,” Larry said. He clutched his cup next to his mouth and felt the heat warm his hands and face. It did not, however, go any farther. He looked at the coffee cup next to Elaine and closed his eyes.

“We’re moving,” Elaine said.

Larry opened his eyes. Elaine grinned at him.

“Stan and I found a place in Tampa. In Florida. I hear the weather is a lot nicer there.”

“Look, Elaine,” Larry said. He felt at odds to have to tell his sister that she needed to see a doctor. She had always been the healthy one in the family. “I need you to listen to me—”

“Although I’m told they get a lot of rain in the winter. But it—”

“Elaine—”

“It beats the snow,” she said happily, “and I’m getting too old for these terrible winters here.” She glanced at the empty seat next to her. Then she signaled at the waitress behind the counter near the front door.

“We need more sugar,” she said to the teenage girl who left the counter and approached their table.

The girl, whose white blouse and red skirt seemed too large on her short and thin frame, grabbed a sugar container from the table behind Larry and brought it to Elaine with a smile.

“Thank you, honey.” Elaine grinned.

“Can I get you anything else?”

“No. Thank you.”

Larry looked up at curious brown eyes.

“Sir?” the girl said.

“Uh, no, I’m good. Thanks.”

The waitress scurried back to her counter, although Larry and Elaine were the only customers in the place.

Elaine sat the sugar container next to the full coffee cup next to her. Then, “You’re welcome, dear,” she said before returning her attention to Larry.

“You were saying?” she asked.

Larry sipped at his coffee before he said, “He’s dead.”

Read More »

Old Bones: Behavior Unkind

Here is a strange story about a man who disrespects others, including his mother … perfect for Mothers Day.

*

SOMETHING STRANGE HAD happened to Myers Ridge after an earthquake shook the little town of Ridgewood three months ago. Vehicles began stalling on the ridge. Not all vehicles stalled, and sometimes a day went by when no cars or trucks stalled. But when they did stall, business at Morton Twitchel’s garage was good.

Now, Mort sat in his lamp lit sun porch, reading the evening edition of The Ridgewood Gazette chocked full of Christmas ads when he glanced up and saw the car go past his house, heading toward Myers Ridge. By its sleek, aerodynamic shape, Mort knew that sensors and computer chips controlled the vehicle.

He grinned. Then, “Ma,” he hollered toward the living room where the sounds of Wheel of Fortune blared from a TV; “Hey, Ma, I’m going out. Be back later.”

“What about supper?” his mother called back.

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

“Pick me up some Pepsi…”

“I ain’t going to town—”

“…and some sour cream and onion chips.”

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

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

Mort spat a brown hocker—cancer?—then pulled his capillary body into his big Ford 350 with a Holmes 440 wrecker boom and bed and hurried onto Russell Road. The tow truck had no engine control unit to manage emissions. It was the only way he could rescue the damn fools from the ridge’s electrical disturbances crippling their vehicles’ fancy engines.

He spotted the dead Nissan at the intersection of Russell and Ridge highways sooner than he expected. It was a fancy car, a wannabe rich person’s car, no doubt circuited with an electronic data recorder and loaded with all sorts of the latest electrical sensors. He parked in front of the stranded vehicle, then dropped to the ground and nearly fell when his knees almost buckled. He tossed away the cigarette and spat before he approached the car.

Read More »

Old Bones: Are We There Yet?

With all its blemishes, I wrote the strange and creepy “Are We There Yet?” in 1999 and published it at my old no-longer-in-service website. Since then, I have recycled parts of it for my Vree Erickson novel, Margga’s Curse.

*

ON A PARTICULAR August day, not far from Ridgewood, Pennsylvania, a black Grand Cherokee wound its way over a hilly countryside. The closer the Coleman family got to Ridgewood, the harder the rain fell. Fifteen-year-old Douglas Coleman pulled at his sweaty T-shirt and wished that the air conditioner in his parents’ Grand Cherokee worked. The “grand” had left the vehicle several years ago. Same with their lives. Their fortune had been yanked away over the summer by a cruel twist of fate, right before the dog days of August had hit.

He didn’t care if they ever got there, but he asked anyway: “Are we there yet?”

“Almost,” his mother said. “Another half-hour is all.” She looked unhappy, as though she had done something wrong. Douglas sighed and crossed his arms. It wasn’t she who had made a mess of things.

Next to him in the back seat, Douglas’s eleven-year-old sister, Keera, snored. Drool leaked from the corner of her open mouth and formed a puddle along the front of her pink T-shirt. Douglas wondered how she could sleep when it was so hot and their lives had been ruined—thanks to him, of course, though his mother and Dr. Jarvis insisted that it wasn’t his fault.

He clenched his jaw and deepened his frown, if that were possible. No matter how many times his mother said that things were going to get better, he knew they would never be as good as when they had lived in Minneapolis.

Keera took a breath and snored louder. Douglas jabbed her shoulder until she turned her head and quieted. Then he tilted his own head and let the warm spray from his open window douse his sweaty face.

The landscape of woods and occasional farm and cornfield looked like home. But it wasn’t. Minneapolis and everything that had been theirs were a long ways behind them now. There would be no going back until he turned eighteen. Then he could go to college at Minnesota State where many of his friends planned to go, and be far away from a place where the state depended on a captive groundhog to predict their springs.

We have no other choice, Dougie! His mother’s words still resounded in his ears from the days they had spent packing. They were SFC: strapped for cash, a term his father had started using after lightning had struck him three months ago. It was a term that Douglas hated hearing. It ranked up there with SOL, which was how he felt most of the time.

In the front seat of the old truck, Adriana Coleman banged an open palm against the dashboard. The engine was overheating again.

Read More »