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
I’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?
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.
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.”