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.