III, Part 3

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. 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…

III

The past is a door with ghosts behind it.

December 28, 2012

Chapter 3

book03 640 400Three 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.

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III, 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. In this chapter of “III” (the third short story in the book), Lenny Stevens reappears.

Lenny is the POV (point of view) character in this chapter. He likes Vree and she likes him. She emerges enough from her possession to speak to him, but she is still a distant character.

I said yesterday that “III” is a possession story and poses to Vree the question: “How do I get unpossessed?” In Chapter 2, she chooses not to seek help from others but to be her own savior. Since she’s an only child in this version, I thought it proper that she act this way. Lenny, of course, would rather be her savior. He’s the “Hero in the background” waiting for his chance to pick up the Joseph Campbell (no relation) sword and take action.

So…

III

Beware the gates guarded by dragons.

December 20, 2012

Chapter 2

book03 640 400His last class was study hall in the cafeteria and he had ten minutes to give Vree Erickson the gift he had bought her before school closed for Christmas vacation. Surrounded by tripping hazards of plastic and aluminum chairs and long Formica tables, Lenny Stevens zigzagged his way to Vree, sat opposite her and said, “Merry Christmas.” He slid the gift-wrapped box of chocolate covered cherries to her.

“I would have done this at the beginning of class but I had a humongous algebra assignment to finish,” he continued. “Plus, I wasn’t sure if you’d be here. You missed school yesterday and I tried calling last night but your phone kept going to voice mail, so I called your house and your mom said you weren’t feeling well. Then my dad’s car died before we got halfway up Russell Road—”

“You came out to see me?”

“Of course.” He lowered his voice below the whispered excitement from the room of students awaiting the last bell. “I love you.”

Vree slid a gift-wrapped box to him after taking it from her oversized book bag that occupied the empty seat on her right.

Lenny grinned and tore away the gold wrapping paper.

“You shouldn’t have,” he said when he took the gift out of its box. His long fingers slid over the sleek, black iPad. “I mean it. These things are expensive and all I got you was—”

“Never mind that and turn it on. It has everything, including some games.” Vree lowered her voice. “I added one of my favorites. I know you’ll do well at it.”

Lenny’s grin widened when the screen came on and Vree’s youthful face filled the space. “I love the wallpaper,” he said.

“It works both horizontally and vertically. Now take it for a spin.” Vree rose from the table and fetched her chocolates and book bag. “I left one of my workbooks in the library. I’ll be back in a few.” Before she went to Mr. Baretti and interrupted him from his paperback for a hall pass, she whispered to Lenny, “Definitely try out the game I put on there. It’s called Dragon Slayer, my favorite game of all.”

Lenny went through the menu of games until he found Dragon Slayer and opened it.

CHOOSE YOUR SKILL LEVEL, the computer screen said.

He chose BEGINNER from the options offered.

The screen came to life as a red, fire-breathing dragon swooped down from a velvet star-filled sky and laid to waste in a fiery breath the Tolkien-esque village below. Elflike people ran screaming from wooden houses and stone buildings into the cobbled streets.

Lenny marveled the lifelike graphics while, within seconds, the dragon destroyed the living. Red words filled the screen as the dragon and village disappeared into blackness. GAME OVER — 0 POINTS.

He touched the pad and brought the dragon’s fury to life again. This time he brought a centaur from out of the shadows. The mythical creature shot gold arrows from a gold bow at the dragon. Every shot missed and the dragon destroyed the village again.

GAME OVER — 0 POINTS.

He tried again and the centaur sent an arrow into the dragon’s tail. It screeched and banked away into the yellow glow of a full moon. Then it veered back. Little people ran. The centaur shouted orders to unseen comrades. A maiden stepped from an armament shop and gave the centaur a blue arrow.

“Shoot at its heart,” the fair-haired maiden said.

Lenny was pleasantly surprised to hear Vree’s voice come from the computer. He relished the moment until

“Whatcha got there, Stevens?”

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III, Part 1

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. In this chapter of “III” (the third short story in the book), a month has passed since Vree Erickson rescued her mother from a kidnapper rapist.

In Chapter 1 of “III”, I changed the POV (point of view) character to a self-centered mechanic, which places Vree’s thoughts, feelings and immediacy offstage temporarily. Now she appears as a minor character and is distant from us. We want to know how she’s feeling, but she isn’t talking to us … she’s no longer one of us. I did this deliberately to convey that there’s been a major change in her personality.

“III” is a possession story and poses to Vree the question: “How do I get unpossessed?” She has become a victim and will need a savior, whether that person is herself or another.

So, with no further explication of structure, operation and circumstances, get comfy and…

III

She said of the ancient crystal, “Be careful of being unkind.”

December 13, 2012

Chapter 1

book03 640 400Something strange had happened to Myers Ridge during its earthquake. A sinkhole appeared in a family’s backyard last month. Immediately, vehicles began stalling on Ridge Road there — even on Russell Road where the two country highways intersected. Not all vehicles stalled, and sometimes a day went by when no cars or trucks stalled. But when they did, 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 truck — a 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.

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