Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints

Lola’s New Blog

January 18, 2019
Steve Campbell

A short note to tell you that my friend and writing buddy from ages ago, Lola Gentry-Dey, has a new blog: Lolalia’s World. Fans of fine poetry and art should check it out. She published her first post today: The Journey Begins Again. She is a survivor of cancer after a 2-year battle. Good luck, Lola; I’m cheering for you.

Dead Rabbits Don’t Run (Reprise)

January 1, 2019
Steve Campbell

I smell it again. Past hemlock, below hilltop, the aroma comes from man’s wooden lodge, drifting on powerful smoke, burning my nose.

My eyes are closed. Behind them, man eats his bloodless rabbit meal: chewing, always chewing; licking fingers clean; sucking every tawny bone bare; he will leave no bloodless meat behind. Before he sleeps tonight, he will bury those bones behind his lodge where I sold my soul.

Even now, I would run there if I could and dig up his bones and feast on marrow for the rest of my short, pathetic life.

It was there that I lost my dignity by giving in to temptation. I chewed many cooked bones behind his lodge, feasting under hemlock, becoming less of a hunter.

When man left his lodge for two summers, his woman replaced him. She did not bury rabbit bones. Instead, she threw them and their bloodless meat into high grass. Although the meat was dry and chewy, it had a rich flavor that was addictive. I became a scavenger, a beggar; I stopped hunting altogether.

If my sons should find any trace of me here, they will never know the follies of a foolish old laggard who spent his last days chasing dead rabbits. my death will erase all evidence of my foolish ways.

Did I cry just now, or was it the hungry wail of my empty stomach?

Rain assaults my eyes like large tears trying to blind me of a past that haunts me. Is this my salvation? Will regret be my pardon?

Is there no limit to my delusion?

Rabbits are near. Listen. Smell them.

The elder rabbit towers above me. He looks down at me with a laughing eye. He mocks my anguish. He sneers at my torment with his taunting round face inching across the sky, pulling the blanket of night and death over me.

I wonder if my bones will make a good meal. Will someone like me, too feeble for the hunt, rob my grave and chew on my marrow to satisfy their hunger?

Maybe man will find my old bones instead. I am sure my teeth would make a fine necklace.

Maybe I will not die.

Maybe this is not sunlight warming me, pulling me to my feet.

Rabbits scamper around me, running through summer grass.

I give chase, the way I did in my youth.

Future Plans Update

December 17, 2018
Steve Campbell

I am planning to write a new book. It will feature a LOST AND FOUND story involving time travel.

Time Travel to the Past:

British physicist Stephen Hawking held a party for time travelers in 2009. No guests showed up — he sent out the invites a year later. Some time travel theorists argue that the guests—perhaps all of them—came to the party, but ‘our Hawkins’ didn’t notice because a parallel universe opened up creating another ‘story-line’ when each guest traveled back in time to attend the party.

Going to the past and creating a parallel universe are two major topics in my book. But unlike the universe ‘our Hawkins’ didn’t notice, my time traveling character gets to interact with her future self, and vice versa. In my book, a pregnant woman goes back in time via a time portal created by nature. Hawking and others have argued that you could never travel back before the moment your time portal was built. If true, she can only go back a few minutes in time to the point when nature created the time portal. But she doesn’t. She goes back seven years.

Hawking and other physicists say traveling to the past is probably impossible. But I write fiction, and I plan to have fun suspending belief—or disbelief—in my book. However, I don’t want to stray too far from the scientific reality, so I plan to use science theories to propel the plot. An early idea had been to use a wormhole as my time travel portal. Many physicists believe in wormholes and not only in a pure mathematical sense. But they are at the quantum scale, which happens to be far smaller than atoms. Either someone or some force of nature in my book would need to inflate a wormhole, or something or someone would need to shrink my pregnant character in order for her to pass through the hole. That’s quite a feat and would need a massive amount of energy—and shrinking someone and then bringing them back to regular size seems too Hollywood cliché and doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to write.

Another idea, put forward by the American physicist Ron Mallet, is to use a rotating cylinder of light to twist spacetime. Anything dropped inside the swirling cylinder could theoretically move around in space and in time. According to Mallet, the right geometry could lead to time travel into the past and the future.

Three things come to mind when I think of a cylinder.

  1. A tunnel;
  2. Point A, the entry; and
  3. Point B, the exit.

A time tunnel has an entry and an exit and needs a lot of energy to make it work. I was 16 when I conceived my first time tunnel/time travel story, The Vanishing. Two of my main characters discussed a theory behind traveling in time:

     Vree turned and faced me. The look on her face was close to accusing. “Humor me. You like reading and watching science fiction, so you must know all about time travel theories. Tell me. Do you truly believe in time travel?”
     I shrugged. “If you mean like being able to pass through holes in space and time, some scientists believe it’s possible. But it’s all conjecture. I’m reading a sci-fi novel about a time tunnel that’s stationary at one end and accelerated at the other end by nuclear matter. The main character just entered the stationary end and went into the future.”
     “What about going backward in time?”
     “I suppose if you entered the accelerated end first. You would be in the future of the tunnel’s stationary end, so you’d go back in time to its moment of creation.”
     “Could lightning be powerful enough to cause a time tunnel?”
     “I don’t know if lightning would cause a time tunnel. But its energy is certainly powerful enough to accelerate one, if one existed.”

The story’s time tunnel was a large sinkhole with crystals in it powered by lightning. The lightning and crystals accelerated time along the top of the sinkhole. Anyone who fell into it went back in time, as long as he or she survived the fall.

Getting back to their proper time was a major problem for my characters. As one character asked, “How does one fall up from the bottom of a sinkhole?”

One partial solution was to create a crystal cave with its roof missing. The cave has two horizontal entry points at opposite ends, and the middle has our swirling mass of energy powered by crystals energized by lightning from the opening above, which is the previous sinkhole. Theoretically, in my fictional world, entry at Point A into the swirling mass, and exit at Point B will send a character to the past. And vice versa, entry at Point B and exit at Point A will send a character to the future.

But how can this giant mass of energy occupy the past timeline so my characters can get back to Point A? Why can’t they simply step through a doorway to the past, and return to their future from the other side of the same doorway?

Perhaps there is no way back.

Aha. Picture this:

The top of an underground crystal cave falls and creates a chimney to the surface. The crystals contain opposite energy that attracts lightning to strike them through the chimney. This creates a new energy strong enough to suspend time. Seven years later, someone—a geologist or spelunker—is underground, enters the energy, and exits seven years in their past. Let’s call this person Karrie Erickson. She is pregnant. She has an accident—a fall, perhaps—and gets amnesia. Someone—a geologist or spelunker—from a neighboring town or city finds Karrie (who has no ID on her) and takes her in their care. Let’s call him Pierce Rickman. Pierce calls Karrie Jane because she is a Jane Doe. She has the baby—Pierce names the baby Sara—and keeps her amnesia. She and Pierce marry.

From this perspective, the moment Karrie goes back in time, she, as the amnesic Jane Rickman, occupies the same timeline of Karrie Erickson for seven years until Karrie goes back in time. At this point, Jane no longer shares the timeline with Karrie.

Meanwhile, the moment Karrie goes back in time, this becomes a point of loss for Karrie’s husband Charles who is without a wife. She is attainable, though, because she is in his timeline, albeit seven years older, with a different name, and in another town or city.

So, Charles visits the town/city—let’s call it New Cambridge—and sees Jane Rickman. He recognizes her as Karrie and follows her home. Pierce refuses him entry and to let him speak to her. He goes to the police and Pierce hides Karrie from him. After a game of cat and mouse, he gets back his wife and a six-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

This is The Vanishing and Kismet, a novel in the works for too many years. Until now.

I plan to rewrite those stories put them together in a new book for 2019. I will defy laws of nature and science with this book. This is fiction, after all. Science fiction. My crystal cave will be a place where time has stopped—or moves extremely slowly. To stop time, the experts say, the energy in the cave has to travel faster than light. And nothing can travel faster than light without gaining infinite mass and energy, according to Einstein’s theory of relativity. That’s a lot of mass and energy, which would kill a person passing through it. But in science fiction, why couldn’t electricity create a place where new laws of physics allow for someone to survive and go back in time?

It certainly deserves pondering by us time-bound beings.

I hope you’ll join me.

Ghost Lights (A Halloween Story)

October 31, 2018
Steve Campbell

A spine-tingling tale for Halloween.

Happy Halloween, everybody.

This story © 2002 by Steven Campbell.

I write this alone somewhere within the outer bowels of Myers Ridge. I hope I will survive to get this to the proper hands for publication. And as implausible and of unsound mind as it will seem, what I am about to write is true.

Myers Ridge is haunted.

I made that claim thirty years in my last book about Myers Ridge: Ghosts of Myers County. I was twenty-seven when I wrote about the supernatural events around my hometown of Ridgewood, Pennsylvania, citing references to stories from the town’s newspaper and the Myers County Historical Association, and investigating the contributions of dozens of friends. Little has changed since that book’s publication. Things still go bump in the night. Reports of strange lights and noises on Myers Ridge and at Ten Mile Swamp still come from people who live there. And every five years or so someone mysteriously disappears from one of those areas.

Myers Ridge is a large hill outside of town known for its caves, abandoned mines, and cozy hillside where teenagers park with their dates. It is not as popular as it used to be and the state has been slowly selling the land for its timber. A Michigan recreational tycoon named Mort Jacobs recently purchased parts of the south side and put in ski slopes and a lodge there. But those of us familiar with the hill know the area is populated with sinkholes—the kind of thing you do not want to fall into while skiing down a five-mile slope.

Also plaguing the hill are mysterious lights seen at night. Local legends call them will-o-wisps, jack-o-lanterns, and phantom orbs. Earth scientists claim they are luminous protean clouds rising from deep within the hill. However, eyewitnesses allege that these glowing clouds sometimes emit arrays of flickering hypnotic strobes of lights, causing confusion among people who witness them.

Long before Ridgewood was founded by settlers, the Seneca people living along the fertile lands below Myers Ridge knew well of the lights and spoke of them within their oratory, which was later recorded to text by early settlers. The Seneca knew never to look upon the lights lest their flickering dislocate the mind from the spirit and cause the victim to live the rest of his or her days tormented and mad.

The first recorded casualty made by a white settler was in 1702 when, upon viewing the strange lights, he killed his wife and children and stuffed them in the belly of a slaughtered cow.

In 1852, some miners looking for gold allegedly stumbled upon the lights and went crazy. One survivor, an Irish fellow named O’Grady, claimed Goblins, Trolls, and Boggarts cursed the hill.

Famed geologist Norman Myers discovered gold in the deforested hill in 1901. In a dash to become rich, he and other miners hauled out millions of dollars in gold, ores and other precious metals until Myers disappeared three years later. During a manhunt through the mines, sightings of strange lights in the hill caused over seventy men to lose their minds and kill each other. Reports to law officials state that several people saw Myers’s ghost among the lights, and that he searched for his murdered body inside the mines.

Reports about the mysterious lights and Myers’s ghost continue today, although our police force no longer fields those calls. Those calls come to me. I received a telephone call last week that finally gave me a chance to see the famous poltergeist myself.

The call came from Melissa Laine, the town’s art gallery director who wanted me to see a piece of coal that her father had left her. Curious, I went to her gallery and saw what appeared to be a copper coin protruding from the black rock. Melissa took the odd artifact to the state university’s science department for analysis. Their official finding, which I saw in a letter, was that the coin and coal were more than twelve million years old.

I analyzed the coin, which looked like an American penny. Its exposed flat surfaces were worn, but its round edge had that familiar ridge caused by stamping. While I puzzled over the coin and wondered how it got there, Melissa told me that her father had given the coal to her the day before his death. He had told her that when he was a boy and during a visit to one of the old abandoned mines, Myers’s ghost appeared to him and gave it to him. Melissa never truly believed her father’s story until this past April when she happened upon my book at the library.

She and I immediately readied for a trip to Myers Ridge, and despite inclement weather, she directed me to the old coalmine. To the side of the mine we found a cave. The entrance was small but big enough to allow us to crawl inside it. Our flashlights revealed a large vein filled with marble and limestone, and white flower-like formations called cave pearls grew on the walls. Dripstones hung from the ceiling and white puttylike flowstone called moon milk covered the floor.

That was when I saw Myers’s ghost.

To write it now sends chills down my back, but it was a far more chilling event to stumble upon a ghost, even a friendly one.

My fear soon passed to a feeling of accomplishment. Melissa, however, remained frightened. When I finally calmed her, the ghost said to her, “Did your father like the gift I gave him?”

I knew he referred to the piece of coal. So did Melissa after a false start.

“Yes,” she finally said, forcing some calmness into her voice. “My father cherished it. When he died, he gave it to me.”

The spirit seemed pleased that Melissa now owned the gift. I felt him leave us before I saw him disappear. At the spot where he had stood, a chunk of gold the size of a soccer ball sat on the floor.

Upon inspection, I found the initials NWM carved in it, something miners did to mark their property. I must only believe that the initials stand for Norman Wesley Myers.

There was no possible way for us to carry out the gold, so we headed out into a downpour. As we ran toward our cars, a wall of rain hit us. I turned to tell Melissa to stay with me, but the ground suddenly sloped away. I fell from one of the cliffs and plummeted on my back. For a moment, I thought I was floating. Raindrops hung in the gray air all around me. Then my landing came abruptly and bristly, yet softer than I expected. Boughs of pine and spruce bent and broke as I tumbled from tree limb to tree limb. Branches snapped off in my hands as gravity pulled me down to a mattress of pine needles. Unable to breathe for moment, I gasped for air until my lungs and stomach hurt. When my breathing became normal, I closed my eyes and rested. I may have napped, for when I opened my eyes, the storm had lessened and evening had fallen.

I called for Melissa over the drizzle. No answer. Cold rain dripped on me through the towering canopy of pine and spruce branches stretched over me. I called again for Melissa and waited.

Still, I wait.

Six hours after my fall and further into the night, I have tried to stand, but my legs refuse to work. Pain knifes through my lower back and left hip. My left leg is numb and looks twisted. I am certain it is broken.

I used pine branches to pull myself into a seated position so I can write. My backpack has given me food and drink as well. And beyond the trees is something I do not want to face.

The lights are out there. Five of them. I fear they are the lights that have driven other men insane. And I fear that they are coming for me.

During the past hour, one of the pulsating lights has moved within twenty yards from me. I have tried not to stare at it, but an attractive humming sound emits from its bluish white center.

I turned off my flashlight ten minutes ago in hopes that the light would change direction. It has not altered its course.

Its pleasant sound is difficult to ignore. It sings to me, almost lulling me to sleep. I feel my eyelids growing heavy. I—Dear God, I must have dozed—the light is upon me.

I pray that it is friendly.

I—

Embarking On Vree’s New Journey

October 27, 2018
Steve Campbell

I am preparing to write stories about Vree Erickson and her friend Lenny Stevens again. Lenny is a character I created 48 years ago. Vree soon followed.

The above statement makes it seem like I have written for a long time. I have not. I spent most of that time painting and creating art. Even then, I labored a good part of that time working jobs that paid the bills and gave my family and me food and shelter. I have always struggled commercially and financially as an artist. More so as a writer. But I still do it. Not for fame and fortune. I do it because it still drives me.

Vree

Lenny

Vree and Lenny still come and speak to me, whether I am asleep or awake. Sometimes they tell me of adventures that I end up recording and publishing on the Internet. Someday, those adventures may make it to the print market where people pick books from shelves. For now, though, I publish those adventures in the quickest medium I know.

Lately, Vree has been revealing new stories to me. She does this every year around this time. Winter is coming and I am going to be spending more time indoors. Now is the time to dust off the old laptop and write again.

The last story I published about Vree had her battling the ghost of a witch named Mergelda, also called Margga in an earlier version, which bloomed into a novel from a short story about Lenny and ghost dogs that I called hellhounds for dramatic purpose.

It was my first novel and I was excited to have reached that pinnacle as a writer. But it was not the story I wanted to publish. Or, more accurately, it was not the same story Vree and Lenny first told me, the one that made me rush to my laptop and spill out 100,000 words.

Since then, I have stopped rushing to write more stories. I have taken the time to listen to my characters and to take notes. Vree, who was once an only child 48 years ago before she became the youngest of triplets in the novel, is back to her old self. She is 13 again and dealing with the loss of her father. He died when lightning struck him. The lightning struck her too and changed her—she can hear someone’s thoughts when she is close to the person. And the lightning burned down her home, forcing her and her mother to move to Myers Ridge, a common spooky place in my stories.

Vree can also see her father’s ghost. He appears to her as a friendly apparition. He was a spirit in the novel, but Vree argues with me that he is a ghost. “We cannot see spirits,” she says. “We can only sense them. We see ghosts because they hold to the light they had when they had a human body. We don’t see spirits because they let go of the light.”

I do not know what the light is, but I am sure Vree will show it to me. She has already told me that we are beings who embrace light, and that we fear darkness. “Darkness is the absence of light,” she says. But I question her for more information. Is darkness a void? A black hole? Negative energy?

“Darkness is no light. Exactly that. Nothing more and nothing less.”

I can tell it is going to be an interesting winter with her. I hope she and Lenny show enough of their world and themselves to me that I may produce a new book in the spring. A book that stays true to my characters’ revelations. And a book that will satisfy them and me after all the edits are done.

Nightmare, part 3 of 3

October 3, 2018
Steve Campbell

The last part of this 3-part story is a WIP that my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and I worked on jointly several years ago. We never finished it.

I decided to post it to coincide with the month that will lead us to Halloween.

Reader Advisory: The story may contain strong language.


~ 3 ~

I couldn’t believe Julie had followed me to the pond. She actually thought her display with the knife was going to scare me enough to go back to Odinwood. Ha!

In defiance, I marched over to the highway and turned toward Clearview and the purple-gray sky that spewed forth a sudden and angry thunder. Escape from Julie meant I would have to go through the heart of the storm. I spewed forth thunder of my own. I wished I had remembered my cell phone. I would have called Annie and had her boyfriend come rescue me.

A crow cawed from the trees near the pond. I watched the black bird lift into flight with bulky wings, flapping above treetops, pushing its torso to the sky as the first drop of rain struck my face. The crow banked left, soared across the highway, and landed awkwardly to perch atop a pine tree. It pranced and positioned itself so that it stared down at me.

I yelled at it, told it to fly away.

It cawed at me instead and ruffled its feathers as though it had shrugged its shoulders.

I was wasting precious time. A few more raindrops fell on me as I started up the highway. I had gone about twenty yards when the crow flew past my head and landed a few feet in front of me. It turned, faced me and stood defiant.

I refused to stop. As I passed its left, it pecked suddenly at my left leg, sending pain shooting through the side of my knee.

“Son of a bitch,” I yelled as it struck my knee again with that chisel-like beak and sent more pain shooting through my leg.

I jumped away and then kicked at it as it came for another peck. It dodged my foot, spread its wings, and danced along the shoulder of the road as it squared off with me.

I turned and ran. More rain fell and struck my face. As I wiped rain and tears from my eyes, the crow flew again past my head and landed in front of me. Then it turned and charged.

I screamed and kicked at it as it attacked my legs. Its beak tore through my blue jeans and pierced the tender flesh beneath. My head swam from the pain in my legs, and my knees nearly buckled when the crow hammered its beak against a kneecap. I staggered to run from the damn bird, to escape its savage assault.

Rain fell harder around us, getting into my eyes. A vehicle passed dangerously close and the driver blew its horn as the car speeded past and continued on.

The crow continued attacking me and I continued to kick blindly, erratically, and uselessly. Then it stopped for a moment. I turned and ran, lost my footing, and tripped. I sprawled on the highway, skinning my hands. The crow landed on my back, struck the back of my skull, and hopped away. When I looked up to see where it had gone, a pair of headlights bore down on me and lit up my eyes in a painful, fiery red.

I rolled out of the vehicle’s way and heard the crow take flight, its wings flapping like someone shaking sand from a beach towel.

When I turned, the truck had stopped along the berm. The driver’s door was open and Dr. Bisbee ran to me.

“My god, girl, what are you doing out here on the highway?” he asked.

“The crow,” I said in a bullfrog’s voice while trying to hold back my sobs and trying to stand. “It attacked me.”

Dr. Bisbee took me by the shoulders. Thunder rumbled. Cold rain fell. I opened my mouth to catch the rain that tasted good but icy in my throat. Then, I fell against Dr. Bisbee and wept.

He led me to the passenger door and helped me climb to a dry seat. Before he closed my door, I heard the crow caw out with a triumphant sound from somewhere outside.

I swore at it before the allover warmth inside the truck swallowed me and hushed my profanities. Then, as Dr. Bisbee got into the truck, he and the world around me vanished in a realm of sudden darkness.

Nightmare, part 2 of 3

October 2, 2018
Steve Campbell

The second part of this 3-part story is a WIP that my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and I worked on jointly several years ago. We never finished it.

I decided to post it to coincide with the month that will lead us to Halloween.

Reader Advisory: The story may contain strong language.


~ 2 ~

I knew the way back to Clearview. I also knew the many miles that lay ahead of me.

When I reached the highway, I didn’t slow down. I popped up a thumb and prayed for someone to pick me up. No one stopped.

After walking for nearly three hours, my stomach complained of being hungry. I was well into the countryside and had passed several cornfields. It was three weeks past the Fourth of July and the cornstalks were barely above knee level. Rain had been scarce this year, but a storm was brewing somewhere nearby. The humidity smelled ripe with impending thunderstorms as the white sky grayed and became bruised with purple. I glared one last time with all the hate I could muster at the town of Odinwood behind me and that bitch Julie. She could find someone else to harass.

My stomach complained louder and even yelled at me, so I scanned the area for food. It was too early in the summer to find any ripe fruit, berries or nuts, and I had no clue to what lay inside the woods on either side of the highway. After walking a quarter-mile, I spotted an apple tree with green apples along the edge of a field. I went to it and found that the apples on the ground were hard and dry and bitter. I climbed the tree and found the softest, juiciest ones there. They were sour but helped ease away the thirst and soften my hunger pangs.

After I ate, I was able to think with a clear mind for the first time since moving into that creepy Odinwood house. I looked out over the countryside, and despite the humidity still pressing its wet weight on me, I enjoyed the view and the feeling of leaving Julie behind. Canada Geese honked from a pond just beyond the branches of pine trees, and I could see glimmering water from my perch. I felt thirsty again and I knew I needed to go there and replenish the liquids I’d lost during my walk if I planned to—

What? What did I plan to do? Julie had me on the run and it pissed me off. I had no phone, a long way to walk, and where was I going to go once I reached Clearview? Sure, I could hide out with friends, but my mother would find me missing and call the police and I would end up back at that house and in Julie’s clutches again.

I was damned no matter what I did. I felt trapped, and the apple tree’s branches seemed to take on a sinister feel, like fingers with claws closing around me. I scrambled down and nearly ran toward the water, seeking to quench my thirst and revise my plan.

I staggered through the tall grass and scratched at the dust and flies settling on my sweaty neck and arms. I slapped at the flies biting at my arms and stumbled through the trees and scrub until I saw the pond. There were no thoughts of snakes or quicksand or any other danger as I raced to a deserted clearing at the water’s edge. The pond was small and except for a group of Canada geese swimming in the middle, the place was deserted. Green brush and willow trees surrounded the area and there were large crops of rush along the shore that served as refuge from the highway behind me. I hurried out of my clothes and draped them across the rush. I enjoyed the cool air as it pleased my exposed body. Then I “oohed” an “aahed” as I treaded cool summer water until it covered my breasts. My feet sank into the dark ooze of the muddy bottom, clouding the water as it rose all the way to my chin.

I stayed there for several minutes and let my body relax and go with the gentle push against me until a fly bit at my face and forced me to submerge. When I surfaced, a gentle wind rustled in the trees. The cool breeze prickled my skin. My exposed body became adorned with crystal jewels of water that glittered like diamonds when I returned to the shore, and the cooling air brought relief to the welts made by the biting flies. I sat and stretched out in the grass at the water’s edge and basked under a willow tree while I worked on my plan. I had to get to Clearview and to Annie Freemont’s. The Freemonts would let me stay for a day or two, and then I would have to work hard at convincing mother we needed to either move back to Clearview or find another place to live. More than anything, I had to make sure I was far away from Julia Stillman.

Ready to go, I managed to dress into my underpants without too much difficulty of sliding the cotton over wet skin, and was about to hook into my bra when a knife’s long silver blade flashed in front of my eyes. I turned and stared wildly at the blonde-haired witch who smiled at me with a beguiled look that twisted from ice blue eyes.

I screamed in anger and frustration at the sight of Julie Stillman, but with alarm at the hunting knife gripped tight in her right hand.

She put a finger against my lips. “You’ll scare away the geese,” she said. She wore the blue cotton T-shirt that said BITCHES, WITCHES AND RICHES, and her neck throbbed as she pressed the knife blade against my chin. I covered my breasts with my hands even though she stared into my eyes.

“Is this your knife?” she asked.

My jaw had turned rigid and my mouth became useless. I shook my head no when she asked again if the knife belonged to me.

Then she said, “Found it lying here in the grass, of all things. A real beauty with no rust or nicks or any blood on it. If it isn’t yours, I think I’ll keep it. Finders keepers, you know, and I could use a knife like this.”

I tried to speak, but my mouth stayed closed. My mind churned with ideas of escape. As soon as she moved that knife away from my face, I planned to run.

She pressed the cold blade against my throat and backed me against a willow tree. I tried to scream but my voice was gone. I pleaded with my eyes for her to leave me alone.

She laughed. “Cat must have your tongue,” she said. “Lucky cat. I love tongue.”

I clenched my jaw as she touched my right breast with her left hand. She pinched gently at the nipple. “Hell of a shock I gave you,” she said. “Your nips are like pencil erasers.”

Her words felt numb to my ears as I wondered if she would actually kill me. The point of the knife pricked my skin. I stifled a cry and looked past her, out at the geese on the pond, their bodies and the wind rippling the water’s surface.

Julie took her hand away and held up a fat aquatic worm. “Can’t believe you didn’t feel this bloodsucker feeding on your tit.” She tossed it away. “That nipple will get sore. Why don’t you come back home and let me take care of it for you?” She sucked the blood from her long fingers. “We could be friends, you know. Besties.”

Tears flooded my eyes. “Wh-What do you want?” I managed to ask in a raspy voice.

She lapped again at her fingers, and then said, “I came to see if you really think you can run away from me. That’s all.”

“Please leave me alone.” I struggled to breathe properly. The words felt dead as I watched the pond disappear from a wall of tears building in front of my eyes. I felt my mind leave me and take my sight with it. I was somewhere in grayness where nothing existed. I was unafraid in the grayness. In the grayness I could move again, breathe again, speak again.

In the grayness I screamed forth my anger.

The pond hurried into view as my mind and sight returned to my body. I found myself leaning against the willow tree, naked. Julie was gone. I yelled and bawled in frustration as I hurried into my clothes.

Across the pond, a goose honked. It sounded like mocking laughter.

Then the first rumble of thunder traversed the sky.

Nightmare, part 1 of 3

October 1, 2018
Steve Campbell

October is one of my favorite months of the year. Spooky stories percolate in my mind and sometimes make their way to paper, or to the Internet and my blog.

The following 3-part story is a WIP that my friend Lola Gentry-Dey and I worked on jointly several years ago. We never finished it.

I decided to post it to coincide with the month that will lead us to Halloween.

Reader Advisory: The story has strong language.


~ 1 ~

The rush of icy air filled my lungs and brought my senses back. I was in my bed, but the dark creature from the tree had followed. It hovered above me, black like a panther with the teeth of a shark, levitating by the magic it used to lure me to its lair. My scream burst from my mouth. I thrashed and kicked at my bedcovers to get away, but they held me fast.

The creature disappeared when my bed lamp clicked on. Mother’s worried face replaced the spot that the creature had occupied moments ago. Her warm embrace took away the cold shivering through me.

She helped me out of bed, fussing over me, telling me that a hot shower would make me feel better.

The flu had run its course, but the visions had been like punches to the stomach and left me weak. Mother led me to the bathroom door and left me to undress and shower away my anxiety.

Alone, naked and cold, I stood in front of the shower door and felt the place on my forehead where the ghost of Susie had touched me. Her warning about Julie echoed in my mind. “She has the power to possess you, to be inside you and know your thoughts. She’s using you to look for me so she can banish me from this world forever.”

I fell against the glass door and wept. Witches, ghosts … and now, possession. Surely I had gone insane. Bile rose in my throat. I ran to the toilet and vomited into the water. I watched the yellow sour liquid spread tendrils and flow like ooze to the bottom of the bowl while I wondered if I was really possessed. I pinched my cheeks to make sure and felt nothing. I dug fingernails into flesh and made my left forearm bleed. If there was a witch living inside me, she stayed hidden.

“This can’t be real,” I thought as I stumbled to the shower stall and closed myself inside. Hot water massaged my back. I shivered and shuddered and closed my eyes to the anxiety running through me. When I opened them, mother stood in front of me, naked and radiant. I yelped in surprise. I hadn’t heard the shower’s door slide open or close.

She reached for me and I yelled for her to go away. Pain crossed her face.

“Don’t you love me?” she asked.

“You’re not my mother. You’re Julie. Get out. Now.”

Her look hardened. For a moment, I worried that perhaps she really was my mother standing naked in the shower with me.

“No,” I said. “My mother would never do this.”

“Why not? Are you embarrassed to see your mother naked?” She grinned, spread her arms, and told me to come to her. “It’s time to open your eyes and see the world as it really is, Fiona.”

I opened the door and hurried out. Julie’s voice erupted from inside the shower as she laughed at me. When I turned back, the stall was empty. Water from the showerhead spilled to the floor. I sat on the toilet and shook. I tried to cry but the tears would not come.  A whispery hand stroked my face. Susie stood in front of me.

I bolted through her, ran to my room, and threw on a pair of sweats and my tennis shoes. Then, after sneaking down the stairs and out the front door, I was certain that neither my mom nor Julie knew of my departure. Down the driveway and past the country mailbox, I ran from my mother’s haunted house. I was never going back. And no one was going to make me.

Waxing Nostalgic, Rush

July 21, 2018
Steve Campbell

If we could go back in time and if I could invite you into my home in 1974, I’d want you to listen to my brother Russ’s favorite music for a moment. It was heavy, hard, crashing, wild, and untamed at times. Raw. Energetic. Heavy metal. Thundering.

Outside, it was summer. I had just graduated 11th grade. Playing sandlot baseball was all I had on my mind. My friends and I sometimes played all day at the high school ball field . All we needed was a pitcher, a first baseman, someone at shortstop and second base, and two outfielders. Right field was forever out to right-handed hitters, and left field was forever out to left-handed hitters. And any foul ball hit after two strikes was an out and sometimes resulted in a search for the ball in the woods behind home plate and along right field.

Some days we had to head to the Western Auto store to buy a new baseball, which sometimes led us to the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store to see what new music came in.

That’s how it happened one day, late in the summer, when Russ and I perused the rows of factory sealed records. A friend told us about a Canadian group called Rush. “Heard them on a Cleveland radio station when my folks took us to an Indians ballgame.” The song was Working Man. He talked to the store manager about ordering the record.

I thought nothing more about it. School started and one day (yes, we listened to the radio during study halls) we heard it. My friends and I flipped. We had to have it. But the Ben Franklin store still didn’t have it in because of a label change within the band’s management, or something like that, which held up the order at the distributor in Canada.

Meanwhile, back home, my brother and I immersed ourselves in music. To our delight, a local FM station (WMDI, McKean PA) played LPs at night. Whole records. It’s from that tiny station that we were able to hear Yes, Cream, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin—the list is huge. There was and still is no better way to appreciate an album than hearing it first before plunking down some hard-earned cash for the LP.

One winter night, the station played Rush’s album. It moved us, reached into our hearts and souls and connected. When it was over, we knew we had to own it, to have it in our music collections. I didn’t hear the album again until three months later, on my 18th birthday when Russ handed me the LP and said, “Play it.”

I did. I still do.

Rush, released in 1974 by Moon Records in Canada and by Mercury Records in the United States and internationally

Side 1
Finding My Way
Need Some Love
Take A Friend
Here Again

Side 2
What You’re Doing
In The Mood
Before And After
Working Man

Waxing Nostalgic, McCartney Music

July 20, 2018
Steve Campbell

My last post was about music I grew up listening to. I featured 10 albums that I call “The soundtrack of my life.” Actually, those albums are mostly the soundtrack of my early teen life. Each one has a reason for being on the list that I kept at 10 albums due to time restraints, which omitted many other important ones.

The first album on that list, Revolver by The Beatles (1966), led me to seek out more songs by the group. I ended up with a hefty collection of 45-rpm singles. By the time I could afford long-playing albums, The Beatles were disbanding. My next Beatles album was Let It Be, the US record version released by Apple Records (red label) in 1970.

As quoted at Wikipedia, “Original American copies of Let It Be bore the Apple Records label, but because United Artists distributed the film, United Artists Records held the rights to distribute LP copies of the album in America. (EMI subsidiary Capitol, which held the Beatles’ US contract, had simultaneous rights to the music on the album, allowing them to distribute pre-recorded tape versions of the album, as well as to release its songs on singles and compilation albums. Capitol, however, did not have the rights to release or distribute the album in LP format.) To indicate that Let It Be was not distributed by Capitol, the Apple logo and record label in America sported a red apple, rather than the Beatles’ usual green Granny Smith apple.”

In the wake of The Beatles’ legal hassles, the outcry of the band’s breakup, and the debate of whether Phil Spector did them favor dubbing in orchestral and choral accompaniment of some of the songs on the Let It Be album, I wanted to like the record as well as I did Revolver. I gave the album away a year later in exchange for Paul McCartney’s Ram.

Paul McCartney – Ram, released in 1971

I owned and liked very much the 45-single “Maybe I’m Amazed” by McCartney from his first album, but missed out buying the album. So, when the song “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” hit the radio airwaves, I hurried to the local record store and bought the single, hoping to buy the LP too. Unfortunately, the album never made it to our small town 5 and 10 cent store, so I ended up trading to a friend who lived in a bigger town for his copy of Ram.

Ram is a collection of quirky songs, similar the quirkiness of the songs on Let It Be, but, IMHO, much more fun to listen to. I recall it getting unfavorable reviews by Rolling Stone magazine. Actually, I recall the magazine giving many of my favorite recording artists and bands unfavorable reviews. Looking back, Rolling Stone had a pretentious air to it, which was a deciding factor to cancel my subscription to it in 1977. Years later, I still laugh and thumb my nose at critics who think they have their fingers on the universal pulse of things, but are really out of touch with the other side. Because that’s what life is: Two sides. Take it or leave it.

Anyway, Ram was important because it was fun to hear. And its critics were important because it made me aware of human pretentiousness. That’s when I quit making fun of my younger brothers liking The Osmonds.

Ram was high on my favorite albums list and it sat next to Revolver. It was the only McCartney LP I owned until Band On The Run came along two years later.

Side 1
Too Many People
3 Legs
Ram On
Dear Boy
Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
Smile Away

Side 2
Heart Of The Country
Monkberry Moon Delight
Eat At Home
Long Haired Lady
Ram On (Reprise)
The Back Seat Of My Car

Paul McCartney and Wings – Band On The Run, released in 1973

Without argument, this is McCartney’s most successful and celebrated album. It joined Ram as a top favorite record and got me closer to my brother Russ. His music preferences were much harder and louder than mine were. I recall some nasty hard-edged rock coming from his bedroom at the time, especially from Aerosmith’s debut album and Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. But he took a liking to Band On The Run and borrowed it often. In turn, I borrowed Aerosmith’s album until I bought my own copy later on when I was in the Navy. I’ve always liked their version of the Rufus Thomas hit Walking The Dog.

Side 1
Band On The Run
Jet
Bluebird
Mrs. Vandebilt
Let Me Roll It

Side 2
Mamunia
No Words
Helen Wheels
Picasso’s Last Words (Drink To Me)
Nineteen Hundred And Eighty-Five

What’s important about these albums and the ones featured in my earlier post, is that they played in the background while I wrote my Ridgewood stories from 1970 to 1974. I believe the songs helped me create the characters and their scenes and stories. Today, when I listen to these LPs, I can still see in my mind the people and stories that came about. This, I think, is why the characters still live in me.

Next time, some nasty hard-edged rock that brought Russ and me closer than ever.

Waxing Nostalgic With Music

July 3, 2018
Steve Campbell

Music is a big deal where I work at and I hear a lot of it on their radio that I don’t like. No matter how well I try to appreciate music after the 1980s, “I like that old-time rock ‘n’ roll” best. Of course, my definition of old-time rock ‘n’ roll differs from some of my older friends who grew up listening to singers like Elvis, Pat Boone, and Little Richard.

The music I grew up listening to is the background soundtrack of my life right now. It’s what I play when I’m writing, making art, driving, or just kicking back and being cool, daddio. (Sorry. I’m too young to have been a beatnik, but I couldn’t resist throwing daddio out there. My generation would have said “man,” which lacks poetic finesse.)

My life’s soundtrack takes me back to the 1960s and 70s. The albums listed below are off the top of my head and ones I still listen to. (I kept the list at 10, which omitted many other albums that are part of my background soundtrack.) They all packed a punch to my heart and soul when I put needle to their black and shiny vinyl those many years ago.

Here they are, chronologically.

The Beatles – Revolver, Capital Records version, released in 1966

Revolver was the first Beatles album I owned because my Beatle Fan cousin didn’t like it. What? How is that possible? Anyway, my dad was not a fan of the band, so I had to keep it under lock and key and listen to it with headphones on. The music blew me away. Got To Get You Into My Life was my theme song for many years.

Side 1
Taxman
Eleanor Rigby
Love You To
Here, There And Everywhere
Yellow Submarine
She Said She Said

Side 2
Good Day Sunshine
For No One
I Want To Tell You
Got To Get You Into My Life
Tomorrow Never Knows

Steppenwolf – Steppenwolf 7, released in 1970

In 1969, I became a paperboy in my little hometown and delivered the “big city” newspaper trucked in from the shores of Lake Erie, so I could suddenly afford $5 albums instead of the usual 25-cent 45s. My first Steppenwolf album was the band’s fifth studio album for Dunhill Records. None of the songs made the top 40. But all were instant hits to me. They still are.

Side 1
Ball Crusher
Forty Days And Forty Nights
Fat Jack
Renegade

Side 2
Foggy Mental Breakdown
Snowblind Friend
Who Needs Ya’
Earschplittenloudenboomer
Hippo Stomp

Sugarloaf – Sugarloaf, released in 1970

Yes, I played Green-Eyed Lady to death when it became my favorite go-to song when I was feeling down. I was 13; nuff said. The rest of the album has great rock rhythms and riffs to perk up your day.

Side 1
Green-Eyed Lady
The Train Kept A-Rollin’ (Stroll On)
Medley: Bach Doors Man / Chest Fever

Side 2
West Of Tomorrow
Gold And The Blues
Things Are Gonna Change Some

Yes – Fragile, Released in 1971

Although I thought The Yes Album, which came before this one, was the greatest progressive rock album ever, Fragile blew me away. So did the following album, Close To The Edge, which gets an honorable mention. In fact, I can go weeks just listening to these three albums and nothing else.

Side 1
Roundabout
Cans And Brahms
We Have Heaven
South Side Of The Sky

Side 2
Five Per Cent For Nothing
Long Distance Runaround
The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)
Mood For A Day
Heart Of The Sunrise

The Who – Who’s Next, Released in 1971

I had the 45-rpm I Can See For Miles by The Who that I played to death, and I had heard their Tommy album a few times at school in my English and creative studies classes before I bought the Who’s Next album in 1971. A few months later, I bought their compilation album Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy and wore out several needles playing the two albums. But Who’s Next is my favorite—a classic!

Side 1
Baba O’Riley
Bargain
Love Ain’t For Keeping
My Wife
The Song Is Over

Side 2
Getting In Tune
Going Mobile
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again

Deep Purple – Machine Head, Released in 1972

Deep Purple’s most successful album. I never tire of Space Truckin’, Highway Star, and, of course, Smoke On The Water.

Side 1
Highway Star
Maybe I’m A Leo
Pictures Of Home
Never Before

Side 2
Smoke On the Water
Lazy
Space Truckin’

Uriah Heep – The Magician’s Birthday, Released in 1972

I had a “hard rock, acid rock” friend who was a fan of Ken Hensley from a band called The Gods. When he found out that Hensley was with a new group called Uriah Heep, he bought their albums. One of our favorite albums was Salisbury, and we played Side 1 until we wore it out. I still love those songs: High Priestess, The Park, Time To Live, and Lady In Black. When Mercury Records released The Magician’s Birthday by Uriah Heep, I bought it immediately and never regretted it. This is probably Heep’s greatest album—great stuff for heavy rock fans, though Hensley pens some nice gentle songs too.

Side 1
Sunrise
Spider Woman
Blind Eye
Echoes In The Dark
Rain

Side 2
Sweet Lorraine
Tales
The Magician’s Birthday

Moody Blues – This Is The Moody Blues, Released in 1974

I had many 45s by the Moody Blues that I liked before I bought this compilation album and wore it out. It has been my go-to album for many years.

Side 1
Question
The Actor
The Word
Eyes Of A Child
Dear Diary
Legend Of A Mind

Side 2
In The Beginning
Lovely To See You
Never Comes the Day
Isn’t Life Strange
The Dream
Have You Heard (Part 1)
The Voyage
Have You Heard (Part 2)

Side 3
Ride My See-Saw
Tuesday Afternoon
And The Tide Rushes In
New Horizons
A Simple Game
Watching And Waiting

Side 4
I’m Just A Singer (In A Rock And Roll Band)
For My Lady
The Story In Your Eyes
Melancholy Man
Nights In White Satin
Late Lament

Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here, Released in 1975

Everyone loved Dark Side Of The Moon, including me. But Wish You Were Here was my go-to album for many years.

Side 1
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I–V)
Welcome To The Machine

Side 2
Have A Cigar
Wish You Were Here
Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts VI–IX)

Queen – A Night At The Opera, released 1975

I had graduated high school in May before this album came out in November. This is Queen’s first album and IMHO, their best.

Side 1
Death On Two Legs (Dedicated to…)
Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon
I’m In Love With My Car
You’re My Best Friend
’39
Sweet Lady
Seaside Rendezvous

Side 2
The Prophet’s Song
Love Of My Life
Good Company
Bohemian Rhapsody
God Save The Queen

Another New Look

March 2, 2018
Steve Campbell

I gave my Art ~ Writing ~ Life blog a new look again. It’s what I do when my blog looks cluttered and I’m at a standstill with whatever writing or art project I have going on at the time.

Life got busier during the past year and I grew weary trying to keep up a blog. Blogging and keeping it fresh and interesting are huge responsibilities. When I don’t invariably post new and exciting content to it, I feel guilty of letting down my followers.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of material sitting in the archives for you new followers of this blog. It’s a feature that goes unnoticed because of WordPress’s push at shoving new material at us. Their Reader page with its constant updates is the first thing we see when we log into our accounts. It’s a shame they don’t have a better feature for our archives other than a search bar. But I’m glad to have the old search tool because I love reading and looking at gems from the past.

But don’t take my word for it. Start digging around and see for yourself.

Recap and What’s Ahead

February 20, 2018
Steve Campbell

2018 is a year of do-overs for my Ridgewood characters and their stories. Forget everything about them. Forget all of it.

This is the year that began with a blank slate—a book of blank paper where anything is possible.

Like many writers, there are times when I dread starting the blank paper because, well, if you’ll allow me to use boating metaphor, I know I will have many false starts before my story finally leaves port and sets sail.

Writing stories can be very much like sailing out on an open sea. You obtain a good crew and the proper vessel and provisions for the voyage. You gather information from others who have made similar voyages. Then, as you make your way to sea, you find that your boat isn’t crafted as well as you thought. You discover that your compass is unable to locate true north and your maps are missing important information. And sometimes, your crew—those characters you spent so much time with preparing for this voyage—commit mutiny, take charge of your vessel, and sail into uncharted waters.

It’s hell out there on the high seas. And it’s hell writing stories—especially novels. Those are the long voyages, the ones where you know you’re going to run into all sorts of problems. But like those old sea dogs who keep sailing, you keep writing. Either for the love of adventure or the love of telling stories—or both—you do it for the love of doing it.

And I love telling stories. Even when I have mapped the route and I know where I want my story to go and the direction changes, I love it.

So, here we are, two months into 2018 and I’m finishing getting my crew ready for our voyage. Our boat is still Ridgewood and our voyage is still along the deep waters of Myers Ridge. Some of the crew has changed, but Vree Erickson is still aboard and I’m almost ready to give her the helm. She is younger now—13—but that’s okay. The blank slate in January allowed it to happen. Her best friend on this voyage is her neighbor Julie Douglas. Julie’s big brother, 15-year-old Kaden, is Vree’s love interest. Puppy love is still love and it comes with a ton of emotional baggage. He has eyes for Vree’s musically gifted, 15-year-old sister, Amy. But she is too interested in music to notice boys right now, which is okay because Kaden is moments away from finding a green crystal that’s going to change his life and Vree’s and Julie’s too.

Tune in next time for “Did We Just Change Course?” or “That’s Not a Compass, Silly. That’s a Pocket Watch.”

Merging Similar Characters

February 17, 2018
Steve Campbell

Changes, Part 6

During a break from writing, I continue discussing the changes I have made to my Ridgewood characters.

Sometimes it is necessary for authors to reduce the number of characters entering and exiting their story’s scenes. This is a good time to look for characters with similar personalities.

If two characters have similar personalities, and if they serve the same function in a story, merging them into one character often gives me a richer character. By merging characters, I do not mean throwing all their traits into one stew. Otherwise, the result will be a blurry character.

Dave and Kenny

Dave began as my first and major protagonist. My stories were about him and his growth. Then Kenny came who became Lenny; he and Dave shared similar stories.

Except for their looks, Dave and Kenny are interchangeable characters. Look at their personalities.

  • Dave lives a fast-paced lifestyle of extracurricular activities during the school seasons. He is sports active, outdoorsy and loves to hunt. He likes playing baseball, bicycling, and riding motorcycles and 4-wheelers. He is mechanically inclined and is handy at fixing small engines. Since he is the only boy in the family, he seeks out other boys with similar interests.
  • Kenny is a combination of athletic and rugged, curious and adventurous, and thoughtful and artistic. His favorite activity is fishing. He, too, is the only boy in the family.

Dave and Kenny are from similar molds. They are the same age, in the same grade at the same school, and both believe in the supernatural. They rarely disagree on anything.

They may as well be identical twins.

Boring.

So, I combined them into one character, found a name for him that suited him well, and set about giving him a purpose for future stories.

Amy and Trina

Amy became a main character in my stories when I challenged myself to write from a girl’s perspective. Except for Amy’s bright blonde hair and blue eyes, she and Trina were as easily interchangeable as Dave and Kenny were.

Vree’s older sister, Trina Erickson, was a minor character for many years. When she was on stage in my stories, she had interests similar to Amy’s and was a member of Amy’s all-girl rock group ARC. Like Amy, she played guitar and keyboards, so I combined the two characters and made her Amy Erickson, Vree’s musically inclined sister for my 2012 novel Night of the Hellhounds, which I retitled Margga’s Curse in 2014 and Mergelda’s Curse in 2015.

The New Look

Verawenda “Vree” Renee Erickson, 13
The Protagonist

  • The youngest member of the group of teens on Myers Ridge
  • Feels like an outsider who wants to be part of the group
  • Born August 19, Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then she is in eighth grade
  • Vree and the rest of the Myers Ridge and Ridgewood teens attend Ridgewood High

Identity Type Profile
Shy, secretive, romantic, sensitive, intuitive; in love with Kaden Conrad

“Can see, hear and do paranormal things, which she hides from others” best describes Vree after lightning strikes her on the day of her 13th birthday and puts her in a coma. She awakens from the coma to discover she has a brain tumor and telepathic powers. Her body emits white light when she’s extremely anxious or excited—a talking white crow named Enit Huw (EE-nit HO-ew) calls her a Luminary. A strange book of magic describes Luminaries as powerful sorcerers/magicians whose bodies produce bright white light.

Horrible headaches, caused by her tumor, make concentration difficult.

Her nickname Vree comes from her initials VRE. Her first name is a combination of Vera and Wenda—her mom’s paternal grandmother was Vera Lewis and maternal grandmother was Wenda Walsh. Her middle name Renee is her maternal grandmother’s middle name.

  • Eye Color: Blue
  • Hair Color / Style: Straight, shoulder length blonde hair parted in the middle—wants short hair for easier maintenance
  • Skin Tone: Light; peach; fair—usually burns, tans minimally
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’ 1”—95 pounds; lean, muscular legs, prefers jogging to clear her mind
  • Usual Dress: Prefers casual over dressy—T-shirts, shorts, jeans, tennis shoes; sweats, leggings, heavy socks during cold weather; rarely wears makeup

Residence
31719 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood PA

Julianna “Julie” Michelle Conrad, 13
The Best Friend

  • Kaden Conrad’s younger sister
  • Vree Erickson’s best friend and neighbor
  • Born April 27 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then she is in eighth grade

Identity Type Profile
Motivated by helping others

“People-oriented and fun loving—makes things more fun for others by her enjoyment” best describes Julie. She’s the Caring Best Friend. She has great people skills and is interested in helping others, but tends to put their needs over her own needs. warmhearted, popular, and conscientious—she’s the center of attention in social situations. She can be extremely loyal to her peers and not respectful of laws and rules that get in the way of getting things done. She values harmony and tends to avoid conflicts rather than deal with problems head-on.

  • Eye Color: Brown
  • Hair Color / Style: Straight, thick and long blonde hair; wears ponytail when playing sports
  • Skin Tone: Light; peach; fair—usually burns, tans minimally
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’ 3”—115 pounds; stocky build but not fat, athletic, plays softball and basketball
  • Usual Dress: Prefers casual over dressy—T-shirts, shorts, jeans, tennis shoes; sweats, leggings, heavy knee socks during cold weather; has a sexy side and likes wearing bikinis and tight shorts—thinks her butt and calves are her best features

Residence
32726 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood, PA

Kaden Nicholas Conrad, 15
The Love Interest

  • Julie Conrad’s big brother
  • Vree Erickson’s love interest
  • Has his sights set on Vree’s older sister, Amy Erickson
  • Born July 23 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then he is in tenth grade

Identity Type Profile
Enthusiastic; adventurous; motivated to do his best

“Action-oriented” and “Doesn’t trust other people as much as he trusts himself” best describe Kaden. He is a loyal friend and a risk-taker who lives a fast-paced lifestyle of extracurricular activities during the school seasons. Easy to get to know, since “what you see is what you get.” He is a combination of athletic and rugged, and curious and adventurous. He is sports active, outdoorsy and loves to hunt and fish. He likes playing football, baseball, bicycling, and riding motorcycles and 4-wheelers. He is mechanically inclined and is handy at fixing small engines. Since he is the only boy in the family, he seeks out other boys with similar interests.

  • Eye Color: Brown
  • Hair Color / Style: Dark Brown, thick, somewhat unruly and hardly ever combed or brushed, worn long but never too long
  • Skin Tone: Tanned (moderate brown), burns minimally
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’ 10”—147 pounds; muscular chest because he swims a lot in the summer; muscular legs because he runs, hikes and bicycles a lot; muscular arms because he lifts weights for football
  • Usual Dress: Casual—Typical T-shirts, jeans and tennis shoes; sweatshirts during cold weather
  • Special Appearance: Has “Holly” and “Always” in a heart tattooed on the underside of his right forearm

Residence
32726 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood, PA

Amy Elizabeth Erickson, 15
The Older Sister and Rival

  • Vree Erickson’s older sister
  • The middle child and the shortest family member
  • Kaden Conrad’s love interest and Vree’s rival
  • Born April 23 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then she is in tenth grade

Identity Type Profile
Exuberant about music

“Strives to excel at music for self-expression” and “Trusts others and needs to be trusted in return” best describe Amy. Music means everything to her. When she is down, she recharges by writing and playing songs on her mother’s piano and on her own Gibson acoustic guitar, “jamming” with her all-girl “rock band” called ARC, or “hanging” with friends. She sings with a beautiful soprano voice.

She is gentle, compassionate, kind and charming too. Generally an easygoing person—most of the time, she is slow to anger, but she has a ferocious temper once it is roused.

She is a “people pleaser” who sometimes tries too hard to make others like her. She is at her best when she is with her best friends.

She is the center of Kaden Conrad’s attention. She likes him too, but shows it only when she feels he’s losing interest in her.

She is shorter than her 13-year-old sister, Vree, and she looks younger too. Strangers mistake her as the youngest sibling, which rouses her temper.

  • Eye Color: Greenish-Blue
  • Hair Color / Style: Long, curly Auburn hair
  • Skin Tone: Pale complexion—spends a lot of time indoors; has a slightly freckled nose
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 4’ 11”—90 pounds;
  • Usual Dress: T-shirts with sayings about music, blouses, jeans and skirts, sandals and tennis shoes, open toe and peep toe flats and pumps because “they’re irresistibly sexy yet sophisticated”; and sweaters, sweatshirts and leggings during cold weather

Residence
31719 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood PA

*–*–*

Julie

February 10, 2018
Steve Campbell

Changes, Part 5

Today is my birthday. I find it fitting to feature a character I created on my birthday many years ago when I was a teenager.

Julianna “Julie” Michelle Douglas, 13

In the beginning, I named her Lucinda after an older sister I almost had. She was big sister to Kenny (named Lenny back then) and was a schoolteacher. Years later, I renamed her Susan and moved her to Pittsburgh. She remained a teacher.

She became the younger sister in 1999 when I started a work-in-progress with the working title Let There Be Dragons. I spent three years writing Let There Be Dragons until I shelved it in favor of another story called Kismet. The short story below is a reworked chapter of Let There Be Dragons. Faithful followers of my blog will recognize it as The Pink Fairy WIP featured here, beginning October 20, 2012 and running for five chapters.

Julie went through several name changes over the years before I chose Julianna as a keeper last year.

  • Born April 27 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then she is in eighth grade

Identity Type Profile
Motivated by helping others; Kenny’s sister; Vree’s best friend

“People-oriented and fun loving—makes things more fun for others by her enjoyment” best describes Julie. She’s the Caring Best Friend. She has great people skills and is interested in helping others, but tends to put their needs over her own needs. warmhearted, popular, and conscientious—she’s the center of attention in social situations. She can be extremely loyal to her peers and not respectful of laws and rules that get in the way of getting things done. She values harmony and tends to avoid conflicts rather than deal with problems head-on.

  • Eye Color: Brown
  • Hair Color / Style: Straight, thick and long blonde hair; wears ponytail when playing sports
  • Skin Tone: Light; peach; fair—usually burns, tans minimally
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’ 3”—115 pounds; stocky build but not fat, athletic, plays softball and basketball
  • Usual Dress: Prefers casual over dressy—T-shirts, shorts, jeans, tennis shoes; sweats, leggings, heavy knee socks during cold weather; has a sexy side and likes wearing bikinis and tight shorts—thinks her butt and calves are her best features

Residence
1019 Franklin Street, Ridgewood, PA

Green Fairy (A work-in-progress chapter featuring Julie)

A splash came from Alice Lake. Julie Douglas sat up on her beach towel, lifted her binoculars from her satchel bag, and scanned the lake. Her tanned, bare-chested brother Kenny fell to his oars to control the rocking red rowboat. Someone had jumped overboard and now swam toward her. Once the rocking stopped, Kenny started the outboard engine and followed the swimmer. Amy Conrad stood and hurried out of the water and onto the beach, then waited next to Julie while Kenny anchored the boat in the shallow water.

“Doesn’t he look sexy in those blue swim trunks I bought him for his birthday?” Amy asked.

“Ew.” Julie made a face.

“Hey, sis,” Kenny said with a grin as he approached. He was barefoot, like Amy. “Have you been spying on Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s nephew again?” He pointed at the black binoculars hanging from a black leather strap around Julie’s neck.

Julie sighed and removed the field glasses. “Ha ha, very funny.” She grabbed a tube of suntan lotion from her bag and squeezed some on her reddened forearms. Unlike her older brother, she had to suffer through several sunburns before her skin tanned.

“Isn’t that him spying on you from his bedroom?”

“What?” Julie twisted to look at Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s red and white two-story cottage next door.

“Relax. He’s with the Jacksons in New Cambridge for the weekend.” Kenny chuckled. “He’ll be disappointed he missed seeing you half naked in that hot pink boy-tease micro mini dress.”

“I’m not half naked. And this isn’t a micro mini dress, moron. It’s my new strapless sundress.”

Kenny held his palms out. “Okay. Jeez. Sorry.”

“I think it’s adorable,” Amy said, sitting on the foot end of Julie’s towel. Water dripped from her golden hair and red, one-piece swimsuit. She was careful not to drip any water on Julie’s sketchpad of various bird drawings. She lifted the binoculars to her eyes and scanned the lake. “Seen anything interesting?”

Julie flipped her long dark hair from her shoulders and rubbed lotion on her upper arms. “Mostly robins and chickadees. Some cardinals and blue jays. Nothing exciting.”

“My favorite bird’s the Steller’s Jay,” Kenny said. He removed a yellow T-shirt draped over his right shoulder, put it on, and ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair. “Seen any around?”

“Ha ha, very droll, big brother.” Then Julie added under her breath, “Dork.”

Kenny’s grin widened. “So I like the Steller’s Jay,” he said. “Sue me.”

“And I like penguins. But anyone with a brain knows they’re not native to Pennsylvania.”

“It’s not my fault they don’t live in Pennsylvania.”

“You two remind me of Dave and me on those boring family vacations we get dragged on every August,” Amy said. She placed the binoculars next to Julie’s sketchbook. “We’re going to Yellowstone next month.” She pretended to stick a finger down her throat and regurgitate.

“I love Yellowstone,” Julie said. “All the wildlife and geysers and Lewis and Clark Caverns. Awesome.”

Amy rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Yeah. Awesome.”

A green birdlike creature zipped from the sky and circled Kenny’s head. He swatted at it as if it was a bee trying to sting him. Julie laughed when he stumbled and fell on his backside before it flew away.

“Was that a hummingbird?” he asked, peering at the sky.

“I don’t think that was a bird,” Julie said.

“What?” Amy asked. “Why not?”

“Um … well…”

Amy frowned. Then, “Of course it was a hummingbird,” she said and laughed. “What else could it be?”

“A fairy,” Julie said. “She dropped this.” She plucked a twig from the sand. “I think it’s her wand.”

“Whoa.” Kenny sat forward to get a closer look.

“She was very beautiful, with a girlish humanoid body all covered in green hair from head to toe,” Julie said.

Kenny nodded. “Makes sense. It seems silly to think they live outdoors and are bare skinned like us. I never bought into the idea that they make tiny fairy dresses on tiny looms and sewing machines to keep warm and dry.”

“Whoa, wait a minute,” Amy said. “Are you two serious?”

“Well, what did you see?” Julie asked.

“But fairies aren’t real.”

“But you saw one.”

“But…”

“It’s okay. I never believed in fairies either, even after seeing my third one up close,” Julie said. “But they’re real.”

“Wait. Time out.” Amy looked up at Kenny who still studied the sky. “It was a trick of the light. Fairies are not real.”

“It’s cool,” Kenny said. He scooted across the sand until he sat next to Amy and faced her. “And nothing to be afraid of.”

“I didn’t say I was afraid. I said they’re not real.”

Kenny shrugged. “Some people believe fairies are real and some people don’t. Some people believe all fairies are female. Some say leprechauns are real but trolls aren’t. And some people believe in vampires but not werewolves. It’s how things are until we see them with our own eyes.”

“This is nuts,” Amy said. She closed her eyes and sighed.

Julie pointed at the elm and maple trees separating her parents’ cabin property from Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s property. “There are probably more of them, all of them living in the trees, blending with the leaves so we can’t see them. I’ve read that they only appear at dawn and twilight, but I think we’ve proved that theory wrong.”

Amy snorted. “Yeah, well, I think I’m gonna go to the amusement park where the sane people are,” she announced. She hurried to stand up but her feet shifted in the sand and she fell back to her spot on Julie’s towel. Kenny caught her by the upper arm and kept her from falling against him.

She pulled from his grasp. “Ouch. You scratched me.” She pushed him away and inspected her arm.

While Kenny peered at Amy’s scratch, Julie said, “I wonder why the fairy buzzed your head, Kenny. They don’t usually show themselves to humans unless they have something to say.”

“She did make a noise that could have been her talking to me.” Kenny looked up and shrugged. “It sounded like she said yellow stone, but I couldn’t make it out too well.”

“We were talking about Amy going to Yellowstone,” Julie said, excited. “Yellowstone. Say it. Yellowstone.”

“Why?”

“Just say it. I wanna see if she returns.”

“Yellowstone,” Kenny said, looking at the sky.

The fairy flew from a maple tree next to Mr. and Mrs. Jackson’s cabin and circled Kenny’s head. He kept still and closed his eyes.

“What is she saying to you?” Julie asked a moment later when the fairy circled Kenny’s head faster and became a green streak.

“Yellow,” Kenny said. Then, “No … not yellow. Arrow. Arrow stone.”

“This … is too freaky,” Amy said. She licked her lips, then stood and stumbled when she backed away from Kenny and the fairy. “I-I … I need to get out of here.” She turned, took a step, then yelped when her feet left the ground and her body lifted a foot into the air.

“Don’t move,” Kenny called out. “Nobody do or say anything

“Let me down,” Amy cried out. She kicked her legs. “Let me down right now.”

Julie jumped to her feet and hurried to Amy’s left side. “Don’t be afraid,” she said, encircling her arms around Amy’s upper legs. “And stop kicking.” She pulled Amy down.

As soon as Amy’s feet touched ground, she fell forward and took Julie with her. The girls landed on a damp, hardwood floor. Julie rolled to her back, sat up and picked up the twig she was certain was a fairy wand.

The large, rectangular room was dingy and musty smelling in the dim light that entered three broken windows and a missing slat along the wall closest to Julie. A red squirrel scampered across the floor and disappeared through the missing slat. Rodents squealed and scurried in the ceiling where a labyrinth of cobwebs festooned from it. Thick dust covered the floor, and Julie’s bare feet stirred it into the light as she went to the nearest window and looked out at a jungle of trees.

“Is this someone’s house in the middle of the woods?” she asked.

“We’re in Myers Mansion.” Amy stood and shivered.

“You mean the creepy place next to your house?” Julie turned and grinned at Amy. “Awesome.”

Amy started toward Julie, then stopped and threw her arms in the air. “Something weird just happened to us and you think it’s awesome. How is this awesome, Julie? Explain it to me.”

“We just teleported. How many people do you know can say that?” Julie peered at the sky. “We seem to be in the same time period, so that’s good. I wish I had my phone to find out for sure.  And we could find out what the fairy is doing.” Julie turned and faced Amy. “She said arrow stone to Kenny. She was telling him about a compass.”

Amy crossed her arms. “You speak fairy now, do you?”

“Please don’t make fun of me.”

“No. Seriously. What if arrow stone means flint or any of the other stones people used to make arrowheads?”

“Because the fairy didn’t say arrowhead.”

“So what’s the difference? Huh? Tell me, Miss Smarty Know-It-All.”

“I…” Julie turned and looked out the broken window again. “I can’t tell you how I know.”

“Fine. I’m going home and do my best to forget this ever happened.”

“You’ll make fun of me.” Julie swiped at a tear crawling down a cheek.

“What do you mean I’ll make fun of you?”

“Because you don’t believe in magic.”

Amy was silent for a moment. Then, “I was transported from Myers Lake to Myers Mansion by a fairy who talks to my best friend and his kid sister,” she said, walking up to Julie and putting an arm around her shoulders. “I’ll believe anything you tell me as honest to goodness truth.”

“Promise you won’t tell Kenny or anyone else what I’m going to tell you.”

“I promise.”

“It begins with my mom’s grandmother and great-grandmother. I found an old diary in the attic last month inside a secret bottom of an old storage chest. My mom’s grandmother wrote it, and she talks about a time when fairies became afraid of showy mortal humans. That’s what she called them, and she said hunting parties went into the woods and captured and killed any fairy they found.”

“I thought fairies were … I mean, are immortal.”

“Only the good ones are immortal. The dark ones can be killed with silver.”

“What is a dark fairy?”

“Most of the time it’s a fairy who is changed by dark magic, either by accident or on purpose. And sometimes it can be a mortal human turned into a dark fairy by evil magic.

“But not everyone was afraid of fairies. People like my mom’s grandmother and great-grandmother accepted their differences and were kind to them. The fairies often took these people to their world. The last time my mom’s great-grandmother visited, she returned pregnant and was accused by her neighbors of having sex with a fairy.”

“Did she?”

“The book doesn’t say. The village doctor and judge found her guilty and burned her alive like they did to witches back then. My mom’s grandmother was so angry and frightened that she lived in the fairy realm for a long time until she returned at the request of her brother to die of old age and be buried on her family’s homestead. She wrote in her diary that all of her children were fathered by a fairy prince.”

“Wow. That means—”

“Crazy. I know.”

Amy let go of Julie. “That’s how you knew the fairy meant compass when she said arrow stone.”

“It’s like she and I are connected. Her words formed a picture in my mind. She was doing the same to Kenny before she sent us here.”

“Do you think she really lives in the trees at Alice Lake?” Amy asked. “Or in a fairy realm, like the one you spoke of?”

“Probably both. The realm’s entrance would likely be someplace where there are rings of toadstools or rock circles. Fairies like to live under hills that have old trees, or under willow trees near lakes.”

“Like Alice Lake.” The words were barely out of Amy’s mouth when heavy footsteps below the room caused her to look at the door. “Listen,” she said in a loud whisper. “Someone’s down there!”

The footsteps started up the creaky old stairs.

Julie followed Amy to the doorway and peered down a dingy hallway that led past three closed doors on the left and two closed doors on the right. The only light came from a few holes in the roof. It lit the monster’s yellow massive face when it turned at the top of the stairs. Julie fell back into the room and held a hand to her mouth to muffle a scream.

The only exit was through a window. If she and Amy hurried, they could crawl across the branches there and escape before the monster reached their room.

“Come on,” she commanded. “Follow me.”

But Amy remained at the door, peering down the hallway.

The muscle-bound, apelike monster brushed past her. Red eyes locked on Julie. In two strides, the monster was nose to nose with her. Startled by the sudden approach and the rotten stench that came with it, Julie stepped back, but not far enough as a right hand shot out in a fist. Pain shot through her abdomen. She sat down hard, fell on her side, then brought her knees to her chest and gasped for air.

“Julie, what’s wrong?” Amy hurried into the room and smacked off the monster’s back that sent her staggering backwards against the wall.

“Go.” Julie sucked at the stale air, breathing hard, in and out, almost panting while she tried to catch her breath. “Go. Save … your … self.”

“What happened?” Amy asked, crying out alarmed.

The monster glared at Julie. “You’re trespassing. You need to leave.” It stepped closer. “Give me the magic stick. Or do I have to get mean with you again?”

“Yes,” Julie said, still breathing hard, “I mean … here.” She handed it the twig. “We’re going.”

“Quickly,” the monster demanded, sending spittle onto Julie. It pointed a long, thick forefinger at her. “You have to the count of ten to leave this place, or face my wrath.”

“Fine.” Julie sat up.

“One.”

She stumbled to her feet.

“Two.”

She went to Amy and took her by an arm.

“Three.”

“Come on. We’re not welcome here.”

“Four.”

“Why?”

“Trust me. We have to go.”

“Five. You’re almost out of time.”

She pulled Amy into the hall.

“Six.”

She cursed and hurried to the stairs, almost missing a step on the way down. Amy’s quick reflexes kept her from falling.

The front door groaned and tried to resist their exit. Outside, daylight barely penetrated the thicket there. Vines of ivy ran wild, choking life from the trees and gripping the house in a spooky death hold.

Amy pulled at Julie and stopped her from running onto the path of spongy lichen that led to the front gate.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Julie rubbed her sore stomach and looked at the house.

“The monster didn’t want us there,” she said before the ground trembled beneath their feet. A white flash came from the front of the old house, followed by a hot wind that pushed at them and knocked them on their backs. Julie reached out against the wind and found Amy. They embraced as debris of wood, leaves and grass flew over them. For several seconds, Julie thought the world had ended in an atomic blast.

When the wind stopped, she sat up. Then she jumped to her feet and raced to where the old house had stood.

Amy caught up to her, turned in a circle next to the lot filled with the house’s charred debris. “How is this possible?” She sounded stunned. The white flash and hot wind had uprooted the nearest trees and stripped them of their leaves, branches, and bark

“I don’t know,” Julie said. “It’s like magic happened here. Big magic.” She sat on the ground, drew up her legs and wrapped her arms around them. She said nothing for several minutes. Amy sat next her and hugged her own legs. By the time the birds and squirrels and other animals returned from wherever they had gone during the disturbance, she stood, offered Amy a hand, and helped her to her feet. Both girls brushed dirt from their backsides. When Julie turned back, a green fairy hovered in front of her.

“You gave Gulbrier the wand. He has crossed dimensions to change the past. You and your brother must use the arrow stone to find and stop him before he destroys us.”

Both girls stared wide-eyed as the fairy flew away.

“I heard her,” Amy said. “I heard the fairy speak to you.”

“I caused this to happen,” Julie said. “I have to fix it. But I’m just a girl.” She turned and faced Amy. “What am I gonna do?”

Amy took her by the shoulders and said, “We go to my house, call Kenny, and make plans to get that wand away from Gulbrier. I know some people who are pretty savvy about magic and the supernatural.”

“You’ll do that for me?”

Amy looked at the destroyed house. “I’m doing it for us.” She took Julie by the hand and hurried her onto the path.

*–*–*

Vree

January 31, 2018
Steve Campbell

Changes, Part 4

Verawenda “Vree” Renee Erickson, 13

Upon her creation in the 1970s, Verawenda Erickson was the same age as my other teen characters. She was an only child, nicknamed Vree, and lived with her parents down the road from Dave and Amy. Years later, when I decided to write about Vree again, I made Dave and Amy her triplet siblings and had them move into their grandparents’ home after lightning killed their father. It was fun giving her a pair of siblings to act with and react to, but I didn’t like that they were the same age. So, after revisiting my manuscripts last year, I changed her age to 13 and made her the youngest sibling of a 17-year-old brother and a 15-year-old sister. As the youngest member of the group of teens on Myers Ridge, she is more like an outsider who wants to be part of the older group.

  • Born August 19 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then she is in eighth grade

Identity Type Profile
Shy, secretive, romantic, sensitive, intuitive; in love with Kenny

“Can see, hear and do paranormal things, which she hides from others” best describes Vree after lightning strikes her on the day of her 13th birthday and puts her in a coma. She awakens from the coma to discover she has a brain tumor and telepathic powers. Her body emits white light when she’s extremely anxious or excited—a talking white crow named Enit Huw (EE-nit HO-ew) calls her a Luminary. A strange book of magic describes Luminaries as powerful sorcerers/magicians whose bodies produce bright white light.

Horrible headaches, caused by her tumor, make concentration difficult.

She is Dave and Amy’s cousin—their mothers are sisters. Her nickname Vree comes from her initials VRE. Her first name is a combination of Vera and Wenda—her mom’s paternal grandmother was Vera Lewis and maternal grandmother was Wenda Walsh. Her middle name Renee is her maternal grandmother’s middle name.

  • Eye Color: Blue
  • Hair Color / Style: Straight, shoulder length blonde hair parted in the middle—wants short hair for easier maintenance
  • Skin Tone: Light; peach; fair—usually burns, tans minimally
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’ 1”—95 pounds; lean, muscular legs, prefers jogging to clear her mind
  • Usual Dress: Prefers casual over dressy—T-shirts, shorts, jeans, tennis shoes; sweats, leggings, heavy socks during cold weather; rarely wears makeup

Residence
31719 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood, PA

Night of the Hellhounds (A short story featuring Vree)

*** One of my better known stories, changed to feature Vree as a main character. ***

Vree Erickson needed to get out of the house.

It was unseasonably cool that July Friday night when she walked up the road from her house on Myers Ridge. She stopped at her Aunt Michelle and Uncle Parker’s wide driveway. Her cousin Dave had told her that he and Amy would be at their tents behind the house. She aimed her flashlight at the front lawn and followed the beam to the narrow strip of yard left of the house. A breeze blew past her ponytail and prickled the back of her neck. She shivered and steadied herself with her right hand against the house’s brick siding as she made her way past the three dark dining room windows, then finally past her aunt’s soft-lit kitchen window. Her aunt and uncle were likely in the family room at the back of the house, watching TV.

Something moved in the evergreen shrubbery on her left. The sound quickened her pace to the firelight in the backyard. She came to a circle of seven lawn chairs around a square fire pit. Dave sat in a chair in front of his dome tent and cooked two hot dogs speared to a long roasting fork. His twin sister Amy had her own tent behind her. She sat cross-legged in a chair across the fire from Dave, whispering and giggling with Kenny Douglas next to her. Vree’s heart pattered while her gaze caressed Kenny’s brown bushy hair looking golden in the firelight. She tucked her flashlight under an armpit, rolled up her sweatshirt sleeves, and warmed her hands over the fire.

“Hey,” Dave said. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.” He pointed with his fork.

A thicket of property almost a hundred yards away was to Vree’s right and at the bottom of a hill. No moonlight broke the cloud cover then, so she squinted to see the abandoned Victorian home inside a thicket of trees.

“I just saw some ghosts,” Dave said. “Dogs. Three of them as plain as day. They were there until a moment ago.”

Amy groaned. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.” She looked at Kenny. “Tell him there’s no such thing.”

“Never mind,” Dave said. Then, “Why shouldn’t I believe in ghosts?” he asked. “All our ancient civilizations had them in their art and writing. Just like dragons and vampires and other strange creatures. Each culture portrayed them, including the Aztecs. How could so many different cultures have the same beliefs?”

“Don’t tell me you believe that dumb urban legend about Ben Myers and his hunting dogs freezing to death inside the house,” Amy said.

“Anything’s possible.”

“On a hot summer day?” Amy patted the arm of a chair next to her and told Vree to sit. Vree did, putting her flashlight on the ground and smelling hot dogs, wood smoke, and Amy’s citrus perfume. But her attention was on Kenny’s blue and gold athlete’s jacket that made him look more like a senior high student than a boy heading to tenth grade next month. Not many junior varsity students earned jackets at Ridgewood High. And Kenny’s made him look all the more handsome.

He smiled and nodded at Vree but remained silent while Amy scolded Dave.

“After they disappeared, the police concluded that Ben and Kate Myers died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean.”

“Which isn’t official,” Dave said. “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 groaned again. “It makes more sense than believing that he and his dogs froze to death, or that Kate jumped to her death at the bottom of Widow’s Ravine.”

Vree looked again at the old, long ago abandoned property. The house did have a spooky history, after all, though no one she knew claimed to have seen anything out of the ordinary there. Until now.

But every community had an old house that people said was haunted. This was theirs.

The large Victorian house had belonged to 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 seventy years ago.

Vree glanced at where a trickling stream separated the back portion of the two properties and ran a half-mile behind them to the cliffs of Myers Ridge. There, the stream fell into a steep-sided gorge called Widow’s Ravine, where, according to the legend, Kate Myers jumped to her death after she found her husband and his dogs frozen.

A stick snapped behind Amy’s tent and caused Vree to turn. A tall woman stepped around the tent and approached the fire, which glinted fiery hues from her long black hair, bronze face, and long, sweeping black dress tied off at the waist. A white lace collar hung around her neck and pearl buttons sparkled in a row between her breasts. She looked at the four teenagers with mesmerizing and penetrating eyes—blacker than either her hair or dress, or the rubies set in the gold rings that she wore on eight fingers and two thumbs.

“Who are you?” Dave asked, almost shouting. Lowering his voice, he added, “This is private property.”

“This parcel of land is owned by Margaret Myers,” the woman replied as she held her hands over the fire.

“That’s my great-grandmother,” Kenny said. “But she doesn’t own this property anymore. My friends’ parents do.”

The woman looked at him and lingered with a puzzled, yet bewitching gaze. “You wear Mergelda’s curse,” she said.

“Huh?” Kenny scowled at Dave.

“What are you talking about, lady?” Dave asked. “Who’s Mergelda?”

“Mergelda Dekownik,” the woman said to him. Then, “May I rest a moment?” she asked. “The journey here has tired me.”

Dave gestured an open palm to the chair in front of her. She pulled the chair away and sat on the ground with a grace that made her seem to glide to the grass. There, she tucked her legs delicately beside herself and covered her bare feet beneath her dress. Her gaze shifted back to Kenny, then to Vree, and then to Dave.

“I am Kaethe Ramona Ademia Consuela Savakis,” she said. “But you can call me Ademia. That’s what my papa called me.” She looked back at Kenny. Then her charcoal eyes narrowed and the corners of her mouth lifted for a moment as she smiled at Vree. “You are the prevision I saw in my dreams,” she said. “You must be with him when the curse begins to effloresce. Stay with him and protect him always.”

Vree frowned and drew her knees under her chin. She hugged her legs and asked, “Are you talking to me?”

“I am.” Ademia turned and looked at Dave. “And why do you mistake me for—” she leaned closer “—a gypsy … no … a witch?”

Dave stiffened and said, “I don’t.”

“I suppose I do look like a gypsy. My mama was Brazilian, my papa Greek. But I’m neither gypsy nor witch, although—”

She paused and looked thoughtful. Then she glanced in the direction of the old mansion and said rather sadly, “I must go now.”

She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat.

“Heed the white bird,” she said to Vree before turning and heading toward the Myers property.

The four watched her stroll down the hill and past the old Myers property until the night made her invisible. Then Dave stood and jabbed the air with a finger. “That was her. That was Kate Myers.”

Amy groaned. “The woman may have been crazy, but she was no ghost.”

“Do the math,” Dave said, sitting. “Kate Myers. Kaethe Ramona Ademia blah-blah-blah Savakis. She said her father was Greek. Ben Myers married a Greek woman. It all adds up.”

“That was no ghost,” Amy said.

“I agree,” Kenny said. “She looked pretty solid to me.” He stood and held up his illuminated cellphone. “Sorry, guys. I gotta head home.” He said goodbye and mounted his blue bicycle that lay behind his chair. A headlight came on as he pedaled to the side of the house, opposite of where Vree had come.

Amy stood and said she was making popcorn. Vree checked her phone. It was 11:52. “Dave and Amy say hi,” she texted to her mom. “Be home soon.” She grimaced from the cold when she put her phone back in the front of her bra.

“So, what do you think that woman meant when she said to heed the white bird?” she asked. “And that bit about ‘be with him when the curse begins’ and to ‘protect him always.’ What the heck?”

Dave pointed his roasting fork at the old Myers property and said, “Look.” His voice rose as he said, “See it? It’s a ghost. And I’ll bet you it’s Ben Myers’s ghost.”

Vree squinted. A faint glowing apparition of a man in a white shirt and dark pants walked outside the thicket at the Myers property. It wavered and disappeared.

“Tell me you saw that,” Dave said. “He was there. Just like the dogs I saw earlier.” As if cued by his words, dogs barked from the house. “Legend says that when Myers’s dogs died, their spirits came back as hellhounds to guard the house from trespassers.”

A pack of dogs charged from the darkness and lined at the bottom of the hill. All but one glowed with an aura of green light. The dogs snarled and bared their teeth at them. And their eyes glowed red.

Vree hurried to stand behind Dave’s chair. There were five white hounds with black and brown patches on the left, four rough-coated terriers on the right, and a brown Rottweiler that stood in the middle and slobbered white foam from its mouth. It glowed red and growled deep and guttural. And the red ember of fire in its eyes caused Vree to pull at Dave.

“Let’s go inside the house,” she said. Then she said it again, louder, as the other dogs joined in growling at them. As the growls rose in both pitch and volume, Dave agreed with Vree’s suggestion. He tugged Vree’s grasp away from his left forearm and took her by the hand. Vree started to follow him when three of the dogs vanished, including the Rottweiler.

Horrible howls from below the hill filled the air. The remaining dogs charged the hillside, coming at them.

“Run,” Dave said.

Vree followed at his heels as they raced toward the house.

In a puff of green smoke, a hound appeared in front of them, blocking the way.

Dave skidded to a stop and stared wildly at the green glowing dog. Then he bolted to his left and vanished into the field and darkness there. The hound chased after him, joined by a terrier that appeared at the hound’s side.

In a puff of red smoke, the Rottweiler appeared in front of Vree.

She turned her back and pleaded with the dog not to hurt her.

“Look at me,” the Rottweiler said, its voice deep and guttural.

Vree did, avoiding staring at its demonic eyes.

“You see Blood. You hear Blood.”

Vree trembled and said, “Please, don’t hurt me.”

The dog said nothing for a moment. Then it turned, almost flying across the ground as it too vanished in the dark after Dave.

Vree jumped and almost screamed when an unfamiliar voice cried out above her, “They’re heading toward Widow’s Ravine. You have to help him before they kill him.”

A white crow sat atop the roof above the backdoor. Had it really talked to her? She almost fell to her knees from the fright coursing through her body.

“Go, girl. Hurry.”

“But—” The remaining dogs milled around the campfire and watched her. She had left her flashlight on the ground by her chair. “I can’t see in the dark.”

“Hurry,” the crow said. “You’re not insane. Trust me. Now go, before the boy dies.” The crow spread its wings and vanished.

Vree shook her hands as though she had burned her fingers on something hot, looked at the door, and then hurried after Dave as the remaining dogs—ghosts—hellhounds—whatever they were—started after her.

She plowed blindly into brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed her, scratched her hands, and scarred her clothes and shoes.

The hellhounds closed their distance behind her quickly. Her drumming heart climbed into her throat when she realized she could not outrun them for long. Still, she pushed on for Dave’s sake. Her inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans.

She stumbled and almost fell before the way lit up, as though the moonlight had broken through the clouds. Although she was on a well-traveled deer trail, she had to dodge uneven and dangerous terrain as she followed the sound of the Rottweiler ahead of her.

She cried Dave’s name when she entered a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge. He was there, at the edge but safe for the moment, doubled over and breathing hard. The hellhounds that had followed him had their heads lowered and their rear ends in the air like wolves that had just pinned their prey.

Vree hurried and kicked at the Rottweiler’s backside, hoping to punt it over the cliff. Instead, her foot went through the dog and she landed on her backside.

Quick to get up, she hurried to Dave’s side as the rest of the pack caught up and formed a line, boxing her and Dave at the edge of the cliff. The hellhounds glared with red eyes and growled with slobbering mouths. One of the hellhounds howled and Vree lashed out at it, this time with words.

“Leave us alone, you lousy piece of—”

The Rottweiler growled and leaped at her. Its forepaws struck her chest and sent her backwards, her arms flailing, her feet stumbling over the steep precipice of Widows Ravine.

She plummeted on her back one hundred feet through cold air to the colder waters of Myers Creek. When she entered the T of the tributary and creek, her aching throat released a yelp of surprise as the water enveloped her like an icy blast.

She sank into darkness until her backside struck the rocky creek bottom. She rested there a moment, dazed, unable to move. A thousand drums beat inside her skull and made thinking almost impossible. Then by instinct, she pushed off and struggled toward a sliver of moonlight barely rippling on the water’s surface far above her. Her lungs ached to release the little breath she held. She fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe.

She was halfway to the surface when she knew she could hold her breath no longer.

Shimmering outstretched hands broke through the water’s surface and came for her. The nearest hand bore five black ruby rings, blistering from the gold of each ring. It grabbed the front of her sweatshirt and pulled her from the depths of Myers Creek.

Her lungs sucked in air and bits of water. She coughed and sputtered while her rescuer managed to pull her to shore. There, lying on her stomach, she vomited creek water on the bank of Myers Creek until she caught her breath.

“Your friend David is safe,” Ademia said, helping her to stand.

“He’s … my … cousin.”

“All the same, I stopped the dogs from attacking him. But I was too late to keep you from falling.”

Still weak and exhausted, Vree fell to her knees.

“Who are you?” She shivered wet and cold at Ademia’s bare feet, and looked at her, puzzled. The woman was as dry as when she had sat at the fire earlier.

“I am someone cursed,” she said. “Now I ask the same of you, young lady. Who are you?”

Vree paused and wondered what she meant. And while she wondered, she said, “Dave says … you’re Kate Myers.” She forced the words through a clenched mouth that trembled from the cold that burned at her bones. “He’s right. You’re a ghost.”

“Call me Ademia.”

“And … it’s true. Your husband … and his dogs … froze to death.”

Ademia was quiet while she studied Vree with darkened eyes below a troubled scowl.

Finally, “I am what’s left of Mergelda’s wrath. My husband suffered a hunting accident that killed her father. It was she who called forth an ancient, evil power from Myers Ridge. A power that froze to death my husband and cruelly cast me to my grave among these waters. A power that devastated most magic from these lands. A power that curses us still.”

Dave cried out Vree’s name from atop the ridge. Vree trembled too much to holler back. Ademia placed her hands atop Vree’s head and filled her mind and body with warmth.

“Answer your friend and cousin,” she said; “you’re safe now.”

“Thank you,” Vree said to her. Then she called out and told Dave that she was okay. Dave told her to go to the bridge on Russell Road and to wait for him.

“I owe you my life,” she said to Ademia.

The rubies of Ademia’s rings glowed, turning from dark to bright white light. She held her hands to her face.

“I am with you always,” she said, touching Vree’s forehead before the light from her rings engulfed her and she vanished.

The light engulfed Vree but didn’t blind her. She stumbled upright. Ice water fell from her clothes but she was not cold. She examined her waterlogged phone and hoped the white rice at home could bring it back to life. The phone powered on with a text from her mom: Be home soon. Your dad and I are ready for bed.

As she headed toward Russell Road, the light around her faded but didn’t vanish. Her clothes were dry. So was her hair.

“I am with you always,” Ademia had said. Vree wondered about her rescuer and the ancient power Mergelda had called from Myers Ridge—“A power that curses us still.”

When Vree reached the road, the light vanished. The way home lay in darkness but she knew the way. And she knew the way led her on a journey to something important in her life. Something life changing and dangerous.

She swallowed, took a deep breath, and started up the hill.

*–*–*

Amy

January 30, 2018
Steve Campbell

Changes, Part 3

Another change (and more to come) to strengthen my characters.

Amy Elizabeth Conrad, 15

As a teenage male in the 1970s, the hardest part of writing was understanding my female characters. I had plenty of girl cousins to study, but I grew up in a household of six males and one female, which was my mom. Other than her, I had no one of the opposite sex to study at home. I had books like Little Women and Nancy Drew to refer to, but they were dated. It wasn’t until I married and had daughters did I get to observe females up close. And for the most part, they weren’t as different from males than I thought they were. Unlike my mom and my cousins, as well as the March sisters and Nancy Drew, my wife enjoyed roughing it outdoors and watching football. And my daughters played sports and were as competitive as my son and I. The female gender personifications from the pre-1980 literature I had read and the movies and TV shows I’d watched were unrealistic. It was then that Amy Conrad and the other female characters I wrote about came alive.

  • Born February 23 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then she is in tenth grade

Identity Type Profile
Exuberant about music; Dave’s twin sister; Kenny’s love interest

“Strives to excel at music for self-expression” best describes Amy. Music means everything to her. When she’s down, she recharges by swimming. Free time is spent “jamming” with her band ARC, or “hanging” with friends.

She is gentle, compassionate, kind and charming too. Generally an easygoing person—most of the time, she is slow to anger, but she has a ferocious temper once it is roused.

Strangely (but typical in brother-sister relationships), twin brother Dave—he’s younger by almost ten minutes—seldom resents her. In fact, he “defends her honor” more ferociously than his own. Any potential boyfriends are in for a hard time.

Sometimes, Amy is funnier, more gregarious, and more talented than Dave is, making her stand out and seem like “the favorite child” to their parents. Often, she is sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil to Dave.

Dave, who is the musically untalented child, resents the admiration Amy receives, and views it as favoritism. And Amy views Dave’s accolades in football, baseball and other sports as favoritism. Cue sibling rivalry, and lots of it.

  • Eye Color: Greenish-Brown
  • Hair Color / Style: Brown, long, curly
  • Skin Tone: Pale complexion—spends a lot of time indoors; has a slightly freckled nose
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’—93 pounds;
  • Usual Dress: red blouses, T-shirts with sayings about music, jeans, sweats and tennis shoes

Residence
32726 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood, PA

Beyond the Music (A short story featuring Amy)

Amy Conrad hefted her black acoustic guitar over a shoulder and started down the knoll of her backyard, pushing through a tangle of waist-high weeds and into timberland surrounding Myers Mansion. The old Victorian house sat vacant and ignored behind its rusty gates, invisible to anyone passing by on Ridge Road’s country blacktop. It was the perfect place for Amy to be alone and work on her music.

The overcast daylight barely penetrated the thicket that swallowed her from view. Inside, ivy ran wild everywhere, choking life from the trees and gripping the house’s exterior walls in a death hold.

Amy made her way across a rear porch of spongy boards and through a doorway that no longer held a door. She lit several scented candles inside the largest room downstairs—a musty sitting room with run-down walls of yellowed and peeling wallpaper. She swept a straw broom across the warped and rotted floor and pushed empty beer cans and cigarette butts into a pile near a window of mold encrusted red drapes. Someone had lost a ten-dollar bill there. It was probably Craig Dunn or one of his brainless toadies who sometimes used the place on Saturday nights to get drunk and high at and have sex with underage sluts.

The police had raided the place many times over the past five years. Here was proof that Dunn and his toadies weren’t going to stop. She pocketed the bill and continued sweeping.

Once the broom was propped again in the corner, she took up her guitar and sat on a wood ottoman—the only piece of intact furniture. She flipped away a strand of her long blonde hair and whispered lyrics while she lightly fingered the steel strings and turned their quiesced sounds into song.

For almost ten minutes, she concentrated on chords and words before she set the guitar aside and went to the cobwebby bookcase with ancient, mold-encrusted books. She dared not touch the books as she got on her hands and knees and fetched her portable DVD player from underneath the bookcase. With a press of the PLAY button, the player started up. Her favorite movie, Go, Johnny Go! still in the machine, came on, so she returned to the ottoman and watched the dim flickering of social differences play to the scores of many dead composers. Soon, she drifted on the music, playing it loud to keep her mind from settling on her usual isle of loneliness, put there because no one her age, it seemed, shared her interest in 1950s and ’60s jump blues, rock-n-roll, and hopped-up country.

Sure, she had a brother, cousins, and friends who talked about and got excited over the rapping remakes of some of those old songs, but no one wanted to listen to the raw energy of the original recordings. And for that reason, she existed alone on Myers Ridge in the rural small-town of twenty-first century Ridgewood, Pennsylvania.

Well, not truly alone. Myers Mansion—named after the long ago playwright who had built it one summer ninety years ago—had managed to keep some of its ghosts. Others had come from town and places nearby, attracted to the old mansion’s size and neglect. They watched and conversed from the shadows of the house, though Amy did not see or hear them. She did not believe in ghosts. Only music.

At the same time, Craig Dunn drove his black Triumph motorcycle across the weeds of what he believed was the driveway of Myers Mansion. He pushed his heavy body from the bike and fought gravity to maintain his balance. Day had become night inside the thicket of trees, and he managed to hold onto the six-pack of Budweiser as he stumbled over roots and branches toward the house. He managed a firm grasp of the beer when he squeezed through the gate’s doorway where a fallen heavy limb kept the door from opening far. But when he headed along the footpath through brambles on the left side of the house, he dropped his favorite beverage three times.

The leaves above him hissed from the treetops swaying in the breeze, as if disapproving his decision to come here.

“I’ll do what I damn well please,” he told them. And although the leaves kept hissing, he felt better for telling them off.

A raindrop smacked him on top of the head. He looked up as the sky jarred him with a deafening boom of thunder. Icy rain crashed through the tree branches and slammed against his face. He held onto his beer and managed to stay upright, staggering backward several steps as though an invisible wrestler tried bringing him to his knees.

He tucked his beer under his jean jacket as faded and worn as his jean shirt and pants and brown leather boots. By the time he reached the same door that Amy had entered, he stepped into a hole in the floor but managed to keep his boot from going all the way through it. With an awkward skip, he stayed upright and cursed the rain and house.

He started toward the kitchen where he had stashed his marijuana three nights ago, then turned around and followed the tinny sound of guitar music to the old living room. He stopped as he entered.

“Um … Hi.” He brought an arm to his brow. Her eyes were like cloudless summer skies, so bright in the candlelight that he was glad he wasn’t colorblind like his old man. “Um … I didn’t know you would be here during the daytime.”

She reached out to him, her arms open and inviting like invisible pulleys attached to his heart. He dropped his beer and hurried to her, pressing his body against hers, feeling her strength and hating how soft and weak he’d become.

She moved her head to look at him. He kissed her hard on the lips, not letting her see the lust pushing away the fear in his eyes.

His breath was heavy and ragged around her mouth; his battered hands explored every inch of her. Her heat drove him to the edge. A swing of her hips pushed him over it.

He fell like before, wrapped in the clutches of what she was. Her fire would become ice now. She would want him to stay with her forever.

He untangled his arms and legs from hers and ran from her and the house’

Inside, Amy awoke from her nap when Craig brought his motorcycle’s engine to a roaring start. As he accelerated into the rain and onto the country road, she lifted her head from the ottoman, looked around from where she sat on the floor, and wondered where the six-pack of beer had come from.

She did not see the ghost girl who stood over the beer, watching the door and waiting for her lover to return.

*–*–*

Kenny

January 29, 2018
Steve Campbell

Changes, Part 2

Another change (and more to come), which I feel is necessary to strengthen my characters, is my old buddy, Lenny Stevens with a new name and personality.

Kenneth “Kenny” Jeffrey Douglas, 15

He, as Lenny Stevens, is the second person I created. He buddied with Dave Evans (now, Dave Conrad) in high school until I wrote him as an adult for a short story called “Dragon Slayer.” He went through some name changes before I settled for Leo Nash, a tall and lanky schoolteacher at Ridgewood High. I changed his name back to Lenny Stevens when I rewrote the story for The Green Crystal Stories, an episodic book about Vree Erickson. Now, I have changed his name to Kenny Douglas for no other reason than I grew tired of his name.

Let’s meet Kenny.

  • Born July 5 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then he is in tenth grade

Identity Type Profile
Studious, quiet, good listener, motivated to do his best; a loyal friend

“Doesn’t trust other people as much as he trusts himself” best describes Kenny. Has clear vision of the way things should be. Easy to get to know, since “what you see is what you get.” He is a combination of athletic and rugged, curious and adventurous, and thoughtful and artistic. His favorite activity is fishing.

  • Eye Color: Dark brown
  • Hair Color / Style: Dark Brown, thick, somewhat unruly and hardly ever combed or brushed, worn long but never too long
  • Skin Tone: Always tanned (moderate brown), burns minimally
  • Build (Ht / Wt): 5’ 9”—147 pounds; muscular legs because he runs, hikes and rides bike a lot
  • Usual Dress: Casual—T-shirts, jeans, tennis shoes; sweatshirts during cold weather

Residence
1019 Franklin Street, Ridgewood, PA

Looking For Gold (A short story featuring Kenny)

On a July Saturday, Dave Conrad rode his green 10-speed Schwinn Super Sport bicycle ahead of Kenny Douglas’s blue one as he led the way to a place where he believed they could find gold. They both wore white T-shirts, blue jeans and tennis shoes, and Dave wore his blue high school baseball cap. Kenny caught glimpses of the white letters FE letters on the cap every time Dave turned to see if Kenny was still behind him.

They headed north on Ridge Road, uphill and down, and then uphill and steep for almost a half-mile. The one o’clock sun was hot on Kenny’s back and shoulders while he pumped his bicycle’s pedals to keep up. Near the top, Dave crossed the road, dismounted his bike, and carried it over a large ditch and into a hayfield. Kenny followed along a path that looked like a deer trail, walking his bike behind Dave until they came to some woods. They left their bikes there after Dave removed coiled rope from his bike, and went the rest of the way on foot, into the cool shade and a swampy outcropping to the edge of a rocky cliff. Twenty feet below, water trickled from the hillside, fell and splattered on rock, and fell again to Myers Creek far below.

“If there’s gold,” Dave said, “this’ll be a good place to look.”

Kenny helped Dave with the rope, tying his end to a young hornbeam tree that Dave had called an ironwood. Dave harnessed his end to his legs and shoulders. Then, when both boys were certain the knots were good, Kenny helped lower him to where water trickled from the side of Myers Ridge. Dave dug around at the wet ground, pulled up rocks, examined them closely, and tossed them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so Kenny returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure his knot held strong.

Past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy, a red squirrel inspected the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage, likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called Kenny back.

He hoisted a grinning Dave who proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when Kenny held it.

“Do you think it’s real?” he asked.

“My dad’s tester at home will tell us for sure,” Dave said before he blew into his bright red hands. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold. “Should’ve brought gloves,” he said before taking the rock away from Kenny.

“What are you gonna do with it?” Kenny asked.

“Melt it and maybe make a bracelet for my mom. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”

Dave pocketed the rock, then took off the rope harness and helped Kenny into it. Kenny kept his feet against the cliff wall while Dave lowered him to the trickling streams of falling water. The water’s icy bite kept Kenny from digging long. Within minutes, he held his cold, red hands to his mouth.

“Pull me up,” he called out. Then, “Wait.”

He reached into the farthest stream on his right and extracted a long, conical piece of green crystal rock from the soft erosion. It was as long as his forearm and shaped like an icicle. He held it by the thick end and brushed away sediment from its smooth, glassy surface, rubbing his hand over the polished object and enjoying the warmth where it tapered to a point. He waved it like an orchestra conductor’s baton at the air next to him.

“Whatever it is, it’s manmade,” he said when Dave pulled him up.

“How do you think it got down there?” Dave asked, taking it by the narrow end and swinging it like a baseball bat.

“It must be old to have passed through the ground.”

“Tomorrow,” Dave said, looking determined, “I’m going down there and look for more gold.”

Kenny frowned. “Wouldn’t it be better to look in Myers Creek? The gold’s high density will have caused most of it to sink to lower ground.”

“The creek is pretty deep. We’d need a way to stay at the bottom and dig. We could rent some tanks at Myers Lake, but I’m really low on cash right now.”

“Maybe we could inspect some of the sinkholes around here.”

Dave’s eyes widened again, but not in a good way. “Are you crazy? Some of those holes are infested with rattlesnakes.”

“I’m not saying we go inside. I’m saying that the ground around the hole may reveal more gold. After all,” Kenny puffed his chest while he displayed his retained knowledge from science class, “virtually all the gold discovered so far is considered to have been deposited by meteorites which contained it. And since gold was found inside Myers Ridge, don’t you think there’d be more of it showing where the ground has broken away?”

“Well, I’m staying away from sinkholes. You never know when the ground’s gonna collapse.”

Kenny agreed.

Dave gave back the long stone, then undid his end of the rope and began wrapping it around his left elbow and shoulder. Kenny untied the other end from the hornbeam tree.

Later, back on their bikes and on the road, they rode toward Dave’s house, picking up speed past a couple of dairy farms, some cow and horse pastures, and an abandoned barn in a field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed. A vehicle had indented the grasses there. Dave stopped.

“My Spidey sense is tingling,” he said when Kenny pulled up alongside him. Kenny chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when the long stone he held vibrated.

He dropped the stone and rubbed his hands together.

“That was so weird,” he said. But Dave’s attention was still on the barn.

There, a blue sedan at the barn backed up and turned around.

“Hit the deck,” Dave said. “Don’t let these guys see us.”

The boys jumped off their bikes, threw them into the field, and then dived for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. Kenny pressed close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of his bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.

The driver stopped the car for nearly a minute when it reached Ridge Road. Dave and Kenny were ten yards away and a horsefly had found the back of Kenny’s sweaty neck. He clenched his jaw as it bit into his skin and sucked his blood. He waited no more than thirty seconds after the car pulled away to slap at the fly and rub at the welt it left there.

“Where are you going?” he asked when Dave scrambled up and headed toward the barn.

“This doesn’t feel right,” Dave said. “Come on. And hurry.”

Kenny returned to the road and fetched the long stone. It looked lighter in color and no longer vibrated. He caught up to Dave at the boarded up double doors of the barn.

“No one does this unless they have something to hide,” Dave said.

They pulled the boards away and entered a musty smelling barn that changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther in they went. They passed an old manure cart covered with burlap. The stone seemed to pull at Kenny’s hand toward the cart. A thought came to him that he should look inside it. Then, as though he had read Kenny’s mind, Dave returned to it and pulled away the empty burlap sacks.

A young girl was inside, bound, gagged, and very frightened. When she was out of the cart and her restraints and convinced that Dave and Kenny weren’t going to harm her, she let Dave carry her to his bike where she rode on the handlebars to his house.

She was 7-year-old Laurie Burnett, last seen at a soccer game at the city park, kidnapped from Dr. and Mrs. Timothy Burnett. Her parents had received a ransom note earlier that week asking for $250,000 in exchange for the girl’s safe return.

Three days later, the police caught the criminals after Laurie identified them as associates at her father’s medical office.

Dave and Kenny became town heroes and received a thousand dollars each from Dr. Burnett. Dave melted his gold and made his mom a pendant shaped in the initial of her first name. And Kenny put the long stone on top of his tall bedroom dresser with his collection of other stones and old coins, forgetting about it until the day lightning almost killed Dave’s uncle and cousin.

*–*–*

Taken By Surprise, by Polly Smrcka

January 19, 2018
Steve Campbell

(From Hatch Hollow Tomboy. Used by permission.)

Life on the stony, rolling acres of the family farm was never dull. There were always new and interesting, sometimes frightening, experiences to add to the daily humdrum of endless work. Never were two days alike.

One particular day from early childhood never dims in my memory with the passage of many years since its happening. Let me tell you about it.

It was my turn to help Martin drive the cows home from the pasture for the evening milking. It was one chore that I always enjoyed. It seemed more like play than work. There were all sorts of things to explore on the way to the farthest corner of the pasture where we usually found the cows.

The family dog, Peggy, was our daily companion. The mere presence of the shaggy, sable collie made us feel safe even in the darkest part of the woods that we had to cross to find the cattle. I was also her duty to heel any ornery cow into line with the rest of the herd. It was a duty that Peggy performed instinctively and well.

Although my extravagant imagination often convinced me that there were all kinds of scary things hiding behind every grassy hummock or perching on branches in the shadows of the hemlock thicket that we had to pass along the cowpath, waiting to jump out and scare the wits out of us, I was sure that Peggy would not let anything hurt us.

Dad always reminded us to “be sure you take Peggy along. She will protect you on the way.” Secure in this knowledge, Martin and I took our time to get to the back forty where the cows lay content, chewing their cuds. We took time to check out every bird nest along the way. We stopped at every rabbit hole and dropped in small stones to see if a bunny might scamper out of another hole a few feet away. We poked sharp sticks into every anthill and watched the ants race crazily in all directions, bumping into one another and backing off and heading in another direction.

“Let’s pick some wildflowers for Mom,” I suggested to Martin. “There aren’t any flowers in the garden yet, that Mom will let us pick, so we can pick some here in the pasture. The cows won’t care.”

“Aw, Polly,” scoffed Martin, “You’re such a silly kid. You know that Mom doesn’t like wild buttercups. They make her sneeze too much. C’mon, let’s git the cows home before someone comes lookin’ fer us.”

Martin was right. Mom never let us bring buttercups into the house. But there was still time to stop and pick a handful of ripe, juicy blackberries from a clump of tall brambles near the cowpath. A tomboy’s tummy always had room for a few succulent berries.

The old butternut tree on the bank of the small creek near the back of the pasture was always a favorite place to explore. There were three or four large holes in the trunk. Bushytailed squirrels lived in the biggest hole up in the crotch were several limbs branched toward the blue sky. Martin was a good tree climber and he never missed a chance to check the comings and goings of the squirrel family.

Girls in our family were not allowed to climb trees. My mother lived by strict European ideas. Those ideas held that no decent girl or woman would be caught dead climbing a tree. Think of the shame of it! Some man or boy might come along and see an inch or two beyond your long skirts. How would you ever manage to live down such a scandalous sight? Never mind that feminine legs were fully encased in heavy cotton stockings that usually sagged and bunched around your ankles.

It didn’t seem fair that only boys could do things that were the most fun. But there was no use in trying to change my mother’s views on the way her daughters ought to behave. So I had to be satisfied with poking into the holes closer to the ground. A redheaded woodpecker lived in one and I saw a skunk come out of the hole that went down under the roots of the butternut tree. I could never work up enough courage to poke a stick into the place where the stinky animal lived.

Martin often tried to goad me into disturbing the skunk. “I dare ya t’ even drop a little bitty rock inta his hole,” he taunted wickedly, “jes’ t’ see what the ol’ skunk’il do.”

“If ya wanna know so bad what he’ll do, smarty,” I retorted, “why’n’cha try it yerself. I’m not gonna do it an’ git myself all stunk up!”

Martin knew when his tomboy sister had bested him. He guessed that we’d better be getting the cows home. He walked away from the butternut tree and I followed after I made sure that Peggy trotted ahead of us.

I couldn’t swat fast enough to kill all the pesky deer flies that were out to get their dinner from my bare arms and legs. Martin at least had long sleeves on his blue chambray shirt and he wore long denim overalls to cover his legs. The flies did not bother him too much. But I was soon scratching at least a dozen places.

When we came to a shrubby place at the edge of the bog we walked into a cloud of midges and we knew that a thunderstorm was brewing not too far away. Otherwise the midges would have stayed in the shady bog instead of crawling into our eyes and hair and driving us wild.

By and by the herd came into view. There was a brand new calf trying out its wobbly legs while it looked for the right end of its mother to have its first meal. The cow, a large black and white Holstein, stood patiently while her baby searched and butted her belly. She kept nudging the calf in the right direction but it didn’t seem to understand.

Martin laughed and pointed to the bumbling calf. “Lookit that dumb calf. You’d think it couldn’t help but see where to go to suck for milk. That ol’ cow’s bag is as big as a washtub.”

“Well, how do you expect a new calf to know that? It was just born a little while ago,” I scolded my brother. “You didn’t know how to eat as soon as you were born, either.”

Peggy knew her job, and she lost no time in rounding up the cows and moving them toward home. Martin and I quickly counted heads to be sure that none stayed behind. Martin said we had one too many. I counted again. Sure enough. One cow too many. Where did it come from?

What we didn’t know was that a neighbor’s young bull had jumped over the fence into our pasture for an amorous interlude with one of our bossies.

I will never know why that angry bull chose to chase me instead of my brother. Maybe he simply hated towheaded tomboys, but he showed this one how quickly she could climb a tree.

It was a good thing that the gnarled wild apple tree was close by or I might not be here to tell this tale. I cannot tell how I climbed the tree. But climb I did, faster than you could say Aunt Fannie’s bustle. And there I stayed, precariously perched in the highest branches, my heart pounding a mile a minute. It was a close call.

I guess the bull realized that he could not reach me. But do you think he would admit defeat and go away so I could come down from the treetop? Not on your life! He stayed under the tree and snorted and pawed the dirt and made rumbling noises that sounded like distant thunder. I hoped that he really felt frustrated. Served him right! Maybe he would break off one of those long, sharp horns, too, if he kept on butting the apple tree.

Martin thought my predicament was the most hilarious thing that had happened on the farm all summer. “Ho, ho, ho, Polly,” he laughed, rolling on the ground and clutching his belly with his arms. “Ya better be careful so ya don’t fall outta the tree! It’s gonna be a long, long night up there cuz ya don’t know how ta climb back down.”

I held tightly to the sturdy branch and watched Martin and Peggy drive the cows home. It was the most forlorn feeling I had ever known. I shivered violently in the summer heat and turned my attention back to the ugly bull.

Martin may have looked forward to the prospect of his tomboy sister spending the night up a tree. But it was not to be. As soon as Dad saw that Martin was coming alone with the cows and Peggy, he wanted to know where Martin left me. What could Martin do? He had to tell.

Dad soon came to my rescue. Peggy came with him. The bull left before they came. Dad coaxed me to come down. I sat fast until Dad reassured me that he fixed the broken fence that the bull tore up when he jumped over into our pasture. Dad even pointed at the diminishing form of the bull in the distance in his own pasture, heading for his own barn.

I knew that fright made me climb the apple tree. Now it was fright that kept me from climbing down. But Dad was patient and slowly guided my trembling hands and feet until I felt the solid ground under me and Dad’s strong arms around me.

It was a long, long time until I got over the surprise in the pasture. Martin drove the cows home alone for the rest of the summer.

Copyright © 2000, Polly Smrcka


About Polly

polPolly Smrcka is the author of Hatch Hollow Tomboy and The Way It Was, and wrote the column “Farm Grandma” in the Sunday edition of the Erie (PA) Times-News.

It was the beef boycott of the 1970s that started Polly’s writing career. “Suddenly beef prices at the grocery stores went sky-high,” she recalls. “Everybody blamed the farmers. As a farmer’s daughter and a farmer’s wife, I knew the farmers were not getting all that money. I wrote a letter to the editor of the Erie newspaper about it. The managing editor, Larie Pintea, liked my writing style and asked me to write more about my life growing up. I didn’t think I could do it. I graduated from an eight grade one-room school in seven years, but never considered myself a writer! What could I write about?

“Larie said, ‘Polly, write about your life. Your memory tank will never run dry,’ he said. And it never has. As the newspaper columns about life on the farm in the 1920s and 30s began to pile up, I did think of putting them in a book. But I didn’t do anything about it until someone suggested I contact the Erie County Historical Society. They agreed to publish Hatch Hollow Tomboy in 1999.” Its companion The Way It Was soon followed.

Polly’s books can be purchased by mail from the Erie County Historical Society, 417 State Street, Erie, PA 16501, phone (814) 454-1813, or at The Erie Book Store, or any Barnes & Noble, Borders, and WaldenBooks stores.

Into the New

January 19, 2018
Steve Campbell

Changes, Part 1

January has been a month of stepping back and observing the past, seeing what I can take with me into the new year and what to leave behind. As an artist and writer, it is also a time when I look at the parts of my art and writing I can change for the better. I write more often than I make artwork, so I spend much of my time in that area of my life. And that brings changes that I feel are necessary to make my characters strong.

David “Dave” Nicholas Conrad, 15

He is the first person I created—I wrote many baseball stories about Dave before his first encounter with ghosts, fairies and talking woodland creatures. I changed his last name to Evans for many years. But now, he’s back to his original name. Note: My Bruce Conroy comic strip character was Bruce Conrad before I changed it.

  • Born February 23 in Ridgewood PA
  • If this is the first day of the school year, then he is in tenth grade—Dave and the rest of the Ridgewood teens attend Ridgewood High

Identity Type Profile
Enthusiastic, adventurous, exuberant; a leader

“Action-oriented” best describes Dave—he’s a risk-taker who lives a fast-paced lifestyle of extracurricular activities during the school seasons. He is sports active, outdoorsy and loves to hunt. He likes playing baseball, bicycling, and riding motorcycles and 4-wheelers. He is mechanically inclined and is handy at fixing small engines. Since he is the only boy in the family, he seeks out other boys with similar interests. His best friend is Kenny Douglas.

  • Eye Color: Blue-Green/Hazel
  • Hair Color / Style: Curly, Dark Brown, trimmed and kept short
  • Skin Tone: Pale complexion in winter but tanned other times because he spends a lot of time outdoors
  • Build (Ht / Wt):  5’ 10”—140 pounds; muscular chest and legs because he swims, hikes, runs, plays baseball and football, and bicycles often
  • Usual Dress: Typical T-shirts, jeans, sweatshirts and tennis shoes
  • Special Appearance: Has “Holly” and “Always” in a heart tattooed on the underside of his right forearm

Residence
32726 Ridge Road (on Myers Ridge), Ridgewood, PA

Holly and the Tattoo (A short story featuring Dave)

Dave Conrad’s pleasant expression changed to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air around him had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the oxygen from June’s cerulean sky over Ridgewood High School’s baseball field.

The five o’clock sun seemed to spark Holly Sorenson’s long, soft blonde hair. A halo of white surrounded her from the funeral dress she wore. Some of Dave’s classmates had said that she’d been buried in a white dress.

A chill entered his blue and white pinstriped uniform and gripped his back. Would telling his teammates about seeing Holly do any good? He quashed the idea when she glared at him.

The doorway at the far right end of the dugout framed Coach Walker’s short and heavy body. “Pray we all make contact with our bats this inning and score some runs,” he said around the customary empty tobacco pipe clamped between his teeth. He chewed on the stem and looked out at the visiting team. His Ridgewood Fighting Eagles were undefeated this year. But this evening they were two runs behind the New Cambridge Yellow Jackets as the bottom of the seventh—the final inning of the final game of the season—awaited the Fighting Eagles.

He removed his pipe and Navy blue ball cap and bowed his baldhead. Dave and his teammates waited at their seats on the long wooden bench inside the dugout until Coach Walker said “amen” and took his spot along third base.

“We can hit this pitcher,” someone said.

“Yeah! We can hit this guy,” another player said. “We’ve done it before. Come on.”

“That was before the seniors graduated.” Dave shuffled his feet, scraping the concrete floor with his rubber cleats. The twelfth graders were gone, doing whatever twelfth graders do after graduating high school.

Assistant Coach Andrews cleared his throat from the shadows at the dugout’s far end. “Stay focused,” he said. “This is your team now. This is your game. Never give up.” He called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. Dave stood, responding to the third name called. The players clapped loud and in unison for a moment as their assistant coach loped to his spot along first base.

The cheering came to a slow end and Dave’s gaze wandered again through the wire mesh of a window behind him, to the fifth row bench behind home plate, and the girl sitting there.

He looked away when Holly glared again.

“No such things as ghosts,” he whispered. It became his mantra until a baseball cracked off a bat. The Ridgewood fans and players jumped to their feet and cheered as Danny Ryan’s base hit shot between the first and second basemen.

Dave put on his batter’s helmet and took his place inside the on-deck circle outside the dugout’s doorway.

Holly glowed with a heavenly whiteness … and chilled him from the hellish anger on her face.

She vanished from view when the fans in front of her jumped to their feet.

Tyler Jones had laced a hot bouncing double between left field and center field. The centerfielder caught up to the ball and threw it to his shortstop, keeping Danny Ryan from rounding third base and scoring.

The Yellow Jackets’ coach called for a pitcher change and Coach Walker lumbered over to Dave’s side.

“Rally time,” he said, huddling close to Dave. “Get the ball into the outfield. We need you to score Danny from third.”

Dave nodded and thought about Holly watching him. He had stayed away from her funeral and her gravesite. And now she was here, giving him the stink eye. She hated him. He looked down at the grass, ashamed.

“Hit to the outfield,” Coach Walker repeated. “You can do it. The new pitcher throws nothing but heat. Take the first pitch and study its speed. Then swing away.”

Dave nodded again.

Coach Walker slapped Dave’s helmet before he returned to his coaching spot.

“No such things as ghosts,” Dave said after the home plate umpire bellowed “Batter up.”

He shuffled his way inside the batter’s box. The catcher taunted him with “No batter no batter no batter.” Then he stumbled from the batter’s box, certain he had lost his mind.

The pitcher’s face looked like Holly’s.

“Batter up,” the umpire bellowed again.

Dave trembled as he stepped to the plate. Holly spat and glowered darkly at him from the pitcher’s mound.

The catcher taunted him again. A Yellow Jackets player demanded that the pitcher strike him out. Dave’s teammates countered with a plea for him to get a hit.

Dave swung his bat a couple of times to loosen up, then shot to the ground as a fastball raced at him and missed his head.

He choked on a scream as Holly flew at him and entered his body in a blast of wintry air.

“You killed me,” she screamed in his head.

Dave shut his eyes and grimaced from the pain. When it stopped, he and Holly stood at the downtown playground where she had pitched the murderous baseball to him last month. It had been a gloating demonstration on his part of how far he could hit the ball. But the ball had gone straight off his bat instead of lifting and sailing over the trees by the banks of Myers Creek. The ball struck her sternum and stopped her heart. His foolish showboating killed the girl he loved.

He recalled the old woman telling him to pray for the girl lying unconscious in the dirt.

I did pray. I prayed all night. But it did no good.

Darkness consumed him.

“You never came to my funeral,” Holly said from within the void. “You’ve never visited my grave.”

Dave turned in circles, trying to see Holly and pinpoint the direction of her voice. “I know,” he said. “I’m truly, truly sorry. I couldn’t bear to see you dead. Please forgive me.”

Another icy blast hit him.

“I cannot forgive a coward,” Holly said. Her voice was as painful as the chill knifing his bones.

His heart fluttered and stopped beating. He plummeted through the void and tried hard to inhale. He pushed the fear of death from his mind.

“You were everything to me. That’s why I got the tattoo.” He lifted his right arm. “Your name is inside the heart … my heart. I love you, Holly. I always will … forever.”

He struggled to tell her of when the tattoo became infected.

“I had to go to the ER. My parents were mad, but I’d do it again.”

His falling stopped. Warmth blanketed him and sweet air filled his lungs. He drank it in and gasped from the sudden euphoria he felt.

A hand gripped his left arm and pulled him from the darkness.

“Are you okay?” Coach Walker asked as he brought Dave to his feet.

Dave’s vision cleared but a headache pounded. Something like fingers massaged the inside of his skull until the headache eased to a dull throb.

“I’m good.” He dusted dirt from his uniform and picked up his bat. Then he waited for his coach to settle in the coach’s box before he stepped to the plate.

“You can do this.” Holly’s voice swirled like a gentle breeze around his head.

He grinned at the pitcher who no longer looked like Holly as he readied himself for the next pitch.

It came, large and white toward the center of his strike zone.

The Ridgewood dugout and bleachers erupted with cheers moments after he swung his bat at the pitch.

“Run,” Holly said. Again, her voice swirled like a gentle breeze around his head.

Dave dropped the bat and started toward first base, all the while watching the ball until it cleared the leftfield fence. Then he found his stride and circled the bases. His teammates mobbed him as soon as his feet touched home plate with the winning run.

An hour later, he sat at Holly’s grave and talked—mortal and spirit—until the sun slipped beneath the tree-lined slopes of Ridgewood Cemetery. A breeze stirred through the trees when he placed the homerun ball at the foot of Holly’s headstone. When it stopped, he headed home and embraced the memory of Holly’s love, knowing it would be with him … always.

*–*–*

Writing Time

January 11, 2018
Steve Campbell

I could write more books—and blog about them—if I had more time to write. My 9-to-5 job—the one that pays the bills—runs within a timeframe of 8:30am to 10pm, five of the seven days of the week. My hours worked during a week fall between 30 and 38 hours. A typical schedule looks like this: Saturday and Sunday, 8:30am–5:30pm, Monday and Wednesday, 1pm–10pm, and Thursday, 5:30pm–10pm. Those hours can switch so that another schedule can look like this: Saturday, 1pm–10pm, Sunday, 8:30am–5:30pm, Tuesday, 5:30pm–10pm, Wednesday, 1pm–10pm, and Thursday, 8:30am–5:30pm. As you can see, I am never scheduled to work on Friday because I requested that day off for doctor appointments, car maintenance, housework, and if time allows (which is rare), writing. As such, I get one guaranteed day of the week to write. One.

So what happens on that only day I’ve set aside for writing?

I begin the day by waking up no later than 9am and taking my morning medication for my thyroid disorder. Then, while I wait an hour before I can eat breakfast, I go over last week’s notes of whatever story project I’m working on and jot down any ideas that come to me.

10am, I eat breakfast, feed the dog, and take him outdoors for his morning constitutional.

11am, I get back to work on my story.

Noon, my wife calls from her babysitting job to chat about her morning. This usually lasts for 15 minutes, so I wash my breakfast dishes and pour a glass of juice. Sometimes I make tea. Then, when my wife is done, I hurry back to my writing, which usually lasts until 2 o’clock.

2pm, our dog needs to outside again. If the weather is nice, we run in the yard for 10 minutes. If not, it’s a quick trip off the porch so he can do his business, then it’s back to my writing for me and a nap for him.

2:20pm (some days), my daughter calls from work and asks me to watch her kids when they get out of school at 2:40pm. I say yes and force myself away from my story, which often has percolated into a bubbling action sequence that has me rubbing my hands together and chuckling diabolically.

3pm, my first grandchild shows up. He is always hungry, so we spend about 15 minutes in the kitchen, looking for foods that he likes to eat and isn’t allergic to. By that time, my second grandchild shows up, so we look for different foods for him to eat. He has no allergies, so it’s usually pb&j sandwiches. Then they argue over what to watch on TV while I pester them to do their homework first.

4pm, my two grandsons have lost interest in their school assignments, so I turn on TV and alternate between SpongeBob SquarePants and All Hail King Julien for the next 90 minutes.

5:30pm, my wife arrives home from babysitting and I return to my writing for an hour.

6:30pm, my daughter has picked up her children and my wife and I sit down to supper.

7pm, I spend another hour writing, unless something comes up (visitors, we have to run to the store, our daughter has an emergency at her house and needs a repairperson). Something always comes up.

8pm, I take the dog out and get ready for bed (unless our visitors haven’t left/our daughter’s emergency hasn’t been fixed).

9pm, bedtime, unless (see previous).

Overall, I get about 5 or 6 hours of writing done per week. I can get a few hours more writing done if I have a noneventful Friday or my day off from my 9-to-5 job falls on Saturday or Sunday, but rarely does either of those lucky events happen. It takes me about 700 hours to write a 300-page book. At 6 hours per week, that equals one book every 2.25 years if I don’t lose interest in the story along the way. My last 300-page book came out in 2014. You do the math.

Some of you may wonder why it takes me 700 hours to write a book. Below is a description of the sequences and drafts of my last book.

Draft 1 was the “Inspiration” draft. I wrote whatever came to mind until the story ended. It took 140 hours to write.

Draft 2 was a complete rewrite where I bled over getting the characters to seem real. That took 200 hours to do. Big name authors call this “fleshing the characters.” The title omits pumping lifeblood into your characters’ veins and giving each one a personality. When you change a character’s personality, you change the entire book.

Draft 3 took 98 hours to write after I showed Draft 2 to some of the writers group I belong to and considered their suggestions. As I mentioned earlier, when you change a character’s personality, you change the entire book. The same is true when you add a new supporting character.

Draft 4 was a continuation of Draft 3. This was after I put it aside for a month, then read it from the viewpoint of a reader. The trick here was not to start writing any new books in the same genre during this time, especially if the new book had reoccurring characters, which it did and influenced changes to my story when I took it from storage and read it. After fighting and holding those influences at bay, I strengthened the emotional parts of the story. I tend to shorthand emotions, so I had to get deep into the heads and hearts of my characters. The total time for Draft 4 of my last book took 130 hours.

At 568 hours, I wasn’t done.

After I eagerly presented Draft 4 to my writer friends with a promise “You’re gonna love it,” I licked my wounds and began Draft 5 where, if you’re familiar with Stephen King’s help book On Writing, you end up killing your darlings. So I butchered mine by chopping out chapters and scenes that were redundant and didn’t move the story toward the end, i.e., the boring parts. Most of these were downtime events where my main characters regrouped. Total time for Draft 5 was 102 hours.

After I wrote Draft 5, I contacted people from my writers groups who had read my earlier drafts and wanted to be my beta readers. Beta readers are people who provide honest feedback on your book. Best friends, spouses and family members are the worst beta readers. They’re predisposed to loving whatever you write—no matter how crappy it is. I contacted people who like reading the genre I write and, after I got five readers, I asked them for their opinions about what the liked and didn’t like about my book. After I collected their opinions, I began Draft 6, the final tweaking of my book. From their opinions, I looked at why certain things confused them. Many were story elements missing from my draft, so I corrected them. That took 70 hours. Then I let my ultimate beta reader—the one who was most brutal with my book—have the final lookover. Once a few more corrections were made—8 hours—I headed off to publish it.

Overall, the book took 748 hours to write.

I’m making no promises, but I hope to have another book written before 2018 ends. Maybe sooner, if I don’t lose interest and can squeeze more hours from my busy life.

Blues-ing It

January 4, 2018
Steve Campbell

I’m writing this before I leave for work. I have a 1-10pm shift today. Next month I celebrate 16 years at the store I work at. Celebrate is the wrong word. I don’t celebrate anything about my job. Well, maybe the paycheck. But that isn’t much to party over.

To say my job is depressing is an understatement. I wonder how high the suicide rate is in retail work. Probably high. Really high.

The worst part of my job is interacting with people. It’s important that I smile, be friendly, and make my customers feel relaxed and welcomed. I do that, pushing my depression down, deep inside me. It resides there with the anger I have from the little recognition I have received from my managers. 16 years of rarely getting a thank you or a job well done.

So I dip in the kindness still alive in my soul and make my customers feel welcomed and cared for … just to listen to them gripe about how awful the weather is, how awful the service is in other departments of the store, and how awful technology is. The last one is usually from people who don’t understand how their smartphones work. You see, I work in a photo center and many of today’s customers print pictures from their phones. The worst customers are the ones with iPhones. Apple thought it a good idea to make storing photos in clouds a default setting on their phones. And I get customers who have no idea what a cloud is, other than what sits in the sky when they gaze out their windows. Since I get a lot of these customers, and since I work alone because the company is skimping on hours to its employees to save a buck, I have little time to service all of my customers. Some of them complain to my managers, and I get to hear how I need to be a better employee.

Working in retail sucks.

Now, it’s time for me to push down my anger and put on my “happy” game face.

Until next time, this is Steve saying, “Is it too early in the year to take vacation?”

Another Year

January 3, 2018
Steve Campbell

Yes. Another year.

As usual, I entered my WordPress blog after a long hiatus and spent the whole day redesigning my blog instead of writing. The artist is the true inner child in me—I love playing with design.

Anyway, I played all day with many themes, inspecting their positive and negative elements until I found a design with a high proportion of positive factors to make my blog look its best. I simplified my categories to The Artist, The Writer, and Life Happens, which echoes my blog’s title: Art ~ Writing ~ Life.

Next on my agenda for 2018 is a plan to blog more … and as often as I can without it interrupting other agendas on my schedule. We’ll see. I make no promises—or resolutions—other than I have made more changes to my Ridgewood characters and progressed with Vree’s Margga’s Curse story, now called The Witch’s Curse, its working title when I first drafted the book.

You may remember from January 2017 that I planned to rewrite Margga’s Curse and publish it as a physical paperback at Amazon, which was to be the first book in The Ridgewood Chronicles series. That didn’t happen, so I’m extending that plan and aiming for a finished project by the end of the year.

But I make no promises.

Anyway, have a safe 2018 and live your life like there’s no tomorrow.

Sending Out a Finished Manuscript, by Beverley Bittner

November 17, 2017
Steve Campbell

From the Help Desk of Beverley Bittner.

PJ has been working a long time on a mystery novel. She is finishing it and wants to know if she should send the whole thing to a publisher.

First, congratulations on actually finishing your story, PJ. That’s the first big step of writing. Marketing is the second (and some say the hardest) part. Here are some ideas that may help you:

Study the markets. You probably read a lot of the kind of story you have written. Make a list of the publishers of some of your favorites. Most are in the annual book, Writer’s Market, available at your public library.

Follow the publisher’s instructions. Many publishers will ask for a cover letter and two or three chapters. If you don’t understand what they want, ask. Always send return postage with any mailing.

Don’t think it will be easy. Expect rejections. John Grisham, in an interview in The Christian Communicator, Sept. 1999, said, “When (my) first novel was finished, the response was one rejection slip after another.” Finally he found an editor willing to take a chance on him. 5,000 copies of “A Time to Kill” were printed. Grisham bought 1,000 of them himself and sold them out of the trunk of his old blue Volvo. His second novel “The Firm” captured the attention of Doubleday and the rest is history. By the way, those first edition copies of “A Time to Kill” are now worth about $4,000 each.

We welcome everyone of like interests to be part of our world of reading, writing, and lifelong learning. E-mail us your questions, comments, or ideas.

—Beverley Bittner
Copyright © 2000


About Beverley

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Power That Counts, by Pauline Vaow

November 14, 2017
Steve Campbell

In our rural area, it is not unusual for the electric power to go out during a thunder and lightning storm. Sometimes the lights will be out for hours and when they come back on, they may still be dim for a while.

Our Lord Jesus tells us to let our lights shine brightly out in the open. He said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:15).

A dim light from under a bushel is not good enough. Just as a candle lights up a dark room and a flashlight shines upon a path at night, so our light of faith must shine in our little corner of the world. It will brighten our surroundings and give us and others cheer.

If we put a lighted candle under a container where it will not get oxygen, the flame will go out. When the electric power goes out, we put our candle on top of the table in a holder so it will shine brightly. So our love for Jesus should shine forth for all to see.

Copyright © 2000, Pauline Vaow


About Pauline

If the Writer’s Block had had an official membership list when it started, Pauline Vaow would have been first on it.

Born Pauline Fenton, she is a Corry native and Corry Area High School graduate of 1968. She married Robert Vaow on June 14, 1975. She has the distinction of still living in the house where she grew up.

Pauline also grew up in the Salvation Army. She has attended church there most all her life. You can find her somewhere in the building almost every day, helping out in the soup kitchen, the clothing room, dusting the sanctuary, teaching Sunday school, or even preaching the sermon when the officers in charge are away.

She tells this story, “One day I was cleaning in the sanctuary and I said to myself, ‘Why am I doing this? No one will even notice.’ It seemed to me the Lord said, ‘I will notice. I have chosen you for this work.’ It showed me that all work is important when it is done for God.”

Pauline enjoys Bible study, crocheting, and writing stories about animals, especially dogs. She wants to learn to illustrate her stories herself.

Mittens Writes a Letter, by Lorraine Dahl

November 1, 2017
Steve Campbell

KENNY!

WHERE are you? All of a sudden your ex-girlfriend shows up and me and all my belongings are HISTORY from our house. I’m scared Where are you? I miss you!

She took me to her daughter’s house in Columbus. I hate it in Columbus! They have a mean cat that chewed off a piece of my right ear when I was a kitten, remember? I don’t know WHY I have no brow over my right eye. Do you? I am so beautiful, why would anyone want to harm me? My grey coat and the white mittens on my front feet (hence the name Mittens) and the white knee socks on my back legs are so unique. I only want to love and purr and be stroked. (Hey, isn’t that what a cat’s life is all about?)

It was HORRIBLE in Columbus. I usually hid behind the warm dryer in the basement. I’m lucky they put the essentials down there. Then two NEW LADIES came to get me. Linda (the daughter) and Lorraine (the Mom) put all my stuff in their truck. I sure was hiding! They found me and tried to stuff me into the plastic box they brought. They got me in there once and (ha! hat) I escaped! But they caught me again.

WHAT was to become of me? WHO were these women? WHERE were they taking me? I was so frightened all I could do was mew like when I was a kitten. I made myself as small as possible. We arrived at their house and they made two trips in. They didn’t like making the trips in the rain as Linda’s natural curly hair frizzes in the wet and Lorraine’s goes straight, but they got the job done and took me in at last! And WHERE were you? Not there. I was so frightened. I was afraid that I was going to be killed! Is this the last trip to the Vet that many animals talk about? If so, I was going to MY death with as much dignity as I could possible manage. I stopped making noise and curled into a tiny ball.

WHAT a surprise! In this small room (they call it a cedar closet) was my food and water dish all filled and my hooded box with fresh litter. My scratching box was in the laundry room (they need to get catnip). Then they took me into MY VERY OWN ROOM! (They call it a library.)

On the single bed they had made me a nest of blankets. It is SO cozy! They had salmon for dinner and brought me some bones and juice and skin. It was wonderful! It was 50000 good I ate real fast and most of it ended up on the carpet in MY room but it was OK. Linda cleaned it up and never even yelled at me.

They finally told me that you were in JAIL and I could stay with them until you got out. They called me their “loaner cat.” It sure could be worse. I could still be in Columbus.

I will wait for you and write to you. I miss you!

Your beloved cat,

Mittens

Copyright © 1999, Lorraine Dahl


About Lorraine

Lorraine Dahl is a charter member of Writer’s Block, and an enthusiastic booster of the club.

Affectionately known as “Grandma Fred” to her many friends, Lorraine is the writer of the popular “Mittens Writes a Letter” stories on our website.

Lorraine acquired her nickname at her workplace. She was one of the first women to take on a “man’s job” in the shop at Associated Springs in Corry. Lorraine earned the respect of her male co-workers and stayed at the job for many years.

For several years, as a United Auto Workers representative, she wrote a monthly column for the shop newsletter, the Springboard. Now retired from the shop, she still participates in union and shop retirees’ activities.

Never idle, Lorraine enjoys crafts and has many ribbons from fairs for her work. Like many writers, she is a voracious reader. Some favorite authors are Dean Koontz, Robin Cook and John Jakes.

Area History, Chapter 10, by Beverley Bittner

October 24, 2017
Steve Campbell

The Corry Building That Wouldn’t Stay Put.

By Beverley Bittner.

It was built by William Brightman in Wayne Township before the Civil War. Brightman’s father was a Methodist preacher and the 32 by 45 foot building was to be a Methodist church. It was located about one mile northwest of Corry beyond Macadam Hill at a fork in the road, one road leading to Carter Hill and the other to Wheelock – on the south side of the fork. It was built of hand-hewn red beech. An old account says, “The whole surrounding neighborhood, regardless of their spiritual condition, whether saved or not, turned out to help” with the building project.

Before it was finished, the church was used as a recruitment post for the Union Army. An eyewitness reported later that so many young men enlisted that the front cross sill gave way and dropped about five feet to the ground below “carrying with it a company of astonished men and screaming women.” (Corry Evening Journal, August 29, 1917)

The great 10 by 14 foot timber was spliced. Many years later, Rev. John Hatch, who was born and raised in Corry, and pastored here from 1914 to 1919, removed the splice and erected an iron pillar under the “long, splintering break,” as he described it. He remarked that the building was so strongly constructed that ‘‘the builders said it could be rolled end over end without damage except to the plaster.”

The First Move

About 1875 the Methodists decided to move the church to North Corry. Special preparations had to be made for the descent down Macadam Hill. With horses and oxen placed behind the building to create a slow descent, the church made it safely to its new location on East Columbus Avenue, across from Pine Grove Cemetery. For the next forty years it was part of the Methodist circuit at that location.

In 1914 the Corry Christian & Missionary Alliance church, which had been meeting in homes and rented store fronts, purchased the lot at the corner of East Washington and Maple Avenue. The Methodists were willing to sell the building. The optimistic CMA group bought it for $1,000 and prepared to move it for the second time.

The Second Move

Rev. Hatch said, “We hired mover Del McEntarfer of Union City to undertake the job.” The move took three weeks, being completed on November 2, 1914 at the cost of$335. “We had fine cooperation from the men of the church,” Rev. Hatch said. “Fred Shrader, Will Rhodes, Bro Harrison, among others.

“We called upon the contractor to see to it that under no circumstances was cursing and swearing to be permitted,” he added. “The building was so much heavier than the mover anticipated that when it was loaded and the horse started the building didn’t move; instead it just straightened out the pulley hook of the great iron block he was using. However, he got a much heavier pulley and hook and with this performed the job.”

“The Fair Association gave us permission to cut forty feet off their shed stables and move them out of the way so we could come across lots and on to their racing track (now Snyder Circle) and up the track to the south end of their premises and down on to Elk Street. Then we came east on Elk to Wayne, down Wayne to Washington and up to the present site.”

Thirty-six electric, telephone and telegraph poles had to be underdug and tilted at an angle to allow the building to pass. Because of the width of the building the workers had to travel in the ditches along the road all the way to Washington Street. On East Washington six huge poles of the Postal Telegraph Company had to be underdug, jackscrewed between the pavement and curb. The poles were 90-feet tall and embedded five feet into the ground. They were tipped at an angle to permit passage of the building.

Because of fire regulations, Rev. Hatch recalled, it was necessary to cover the wooden structure with brick veneer. “It was so cold the bricks had to be heated and salt put in the mortar to prevent freezing.”

A Corry Evening Journal article on August 29, 1917 said, “It is still in splendid condition and not one stick of the original structure had to be replaced when the building was placed upon its present foundation.”

If you happen to drive past the corner of East Washington Street and Maple Avenue, take note of the brick building and give her a salute. From Army recruiting station to church to business offices, the venerable old building has earned our respect.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 9, by Beverley Bittner

October 23, 2017
Steve Campbell

Vene Potter’s Trip to Dixie.

By Beverley Bttner.

Vene Potter left Bloomfield Township with two horses, a dog, and a loaded wagon weighing 2,735 pounds. He was bound for a farm in Virginia and a new start in life. His letters home indicate the hardships of the journey and the indomitable pioneer spirit that makes America the greatest country in the world.

Well to begin:

I left Bloomfield for Dixie the 23day of October, 1877. The first day I went 18 miles to the Johnson House. I followed the plank road down nigh Pithole to a large stream, there I turned to my left leaving Pithole to my right hand and went to President where I crossed the river.

The ferryman did not want to take me for fear I had glycerin in the large box, but finally took me over. After we got started Frank started to bark and sure enough I had left him behind. Well I called him and he swam across.

When it got dark I turned the horses in a field and took our coats and made a bed under the wagon and covered up with the sheep skins and went to sleep but it got too cold so I got up and started a good fire close to the wagon and was all right then. Well it commenced to rain at 2 o’clock and rained slowly until 8 in the morning. …

…I found that when they said the roads were good they were bad, if bad they were very bad. I met a man that said they were bad till I crossed the Big Savage. That scared me a little for they had told me they were good and they were bad and now they were savage. …

…Well we got to Johnstown all right, the largest railroad iron manufacturing city in the United States, hemmed in by mountains. There is a large iron furnace at the foot of the mountain with a railroad to fetch iron and coal which is brought direct from the mines to the furnace. It is so steep that a dog could not go up or down. Each mine has a railroad to fetch iron and coal, also a road running on around the mountain where they carry their cinders to get rid of them. I tell you it is a sight worth seeing. …

…I crossed the Potomac at Cumberland, into West Virginia and on to Springfield on the best roads I ever travelled on but I had some very long hills on the mountains so I only got 18 miles or to Springfield that day. Springfield is about as large as Riceville. Two stores, a post office, and one hotel and one barbershop, all of logs. Here it snowed a little.

In the morning Fred would not eat any grain. I asked a man how far it was and he said about 200 miles further. Didn’t that make me open my eyes and ears. A horse that wouldn’t eat and both of them so foot sore that they acted like frozen-footed chickens.

(Potter left the wagon to be shipped by railroad later and continued on to Goochland Court House in Virginia where he met up with the rest of his family who had come another way. It was now November 15, 1877. They continued together to his new farm near Richmond.)

December 31, 1877

I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope it will be happier for me than one year ago was. One year ago tonight Doc Paine stayed with us all night. Em was sick, the snow was two feet deep and the roads were almost impassable, but here we have not seen snow enough to fill a teaspoon yet although rather cold. It has not froze (sic) enough but what we could plow any day yet this fall.

We finally got the wagon, got it to the store, roads were bad, left part of the load and came on, got here Saturday night and Monday morning we moved one load and the women on to the farm. I had come on ahead and started a fire. Mother got here in time to see the chimney fire which caught in the leaves as the house stands in a grove, there was lots of leaves which burnt pretty lively, but we put it out but had hard work. Well when it got cooled down I kept smelling something and sure enough I had singed my whiskers so that there was one inch of a curl and crisp ring around them; smelt bad.

Well if you are coming box your things and ship them by all means for they will cost you more to buy here than it does there. …

…The team stood the journey well except they got foot sore and leg weary for I had pike roads and very rough at that. The roads after I got to Cumberland was (sic) good but hard as stone for they are small stone and smooth as can be, crossing creeks there are not many bridges but when they can’t cross them they ferry. …

…Now mind me and what I have said and don’t come here and get homesick.

Vene


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 8, by Beverley Bittner

October 22, 2017
Steve Campbell

Spartansburg: An Historic Village.

By Beverley Bittner, From Steppin’ Out, August 1971.

About thirty miles west of Warren and ten miles south of Corry, in Crawford County, lies the historic village of Spartansburg. About 1837 Andrew Aiken and his brother Aron built a dam across the creek for power, then built a grist mill on one side and a sawmill on the other. In 1846 or 1855 (depending which records you read) the name was changed from Aikenville to Spartansburg. But its history dates back much further.

Abraham Blakeslee was the first white settler to build a log cabin in the township, on the east side of Oil Creek. His wife, Harriet, recalled one of many frightening incidents of that lonely, isolated life. Most cabins at that time were constructed of logs on three sides. The remaining side was hung with animal skins. Harriet was alone in the cabin with her first baby, Seldon, when a Seneca Indian, in full war paint, pulled aside the skins and sat down at her fireside. She offered him a slice of Injun meal bread with maple sugar. He accepted it, ate, then left as silently as he had entered.

Settlers came family by family. Eventually a school was started and churches organized. Spartansburg’s most important industry, the woolen mill, at one time was the largest wool batton mill in Pennsylvania. Later, the Tauber luxury comfort became known all over the United States. In early days almost every farmer kept a flock of sheep and sold the wool to the mill.

Operating at various times in Spartansburg were: an oar factory, a wooden bowl factory, a cigar factory, a tannery, and a mill which turned out beautiful tweed cloth by workmen brought over from Scotland. On a side street still stands the stone house built by the mill owner for his wife who was homesick for Scotland.

In the early 1900’s, the town was at its peak with ten trains daily, its own orchestra, the Clear Lake Band and a newspaper, The Sentinel.

An unidentified historian gives the following account of Spartansburg in its hey-day: “There is the Tauber Woolen Mill which makes the ‘luxury comforts’ and three-quarters of the woolen batting in the United States. It employs thirty men and women. The Spartansburg Creamery supplies butter for the U.S. Navy. The Brooklyn Milling Company furnishes flour, feed, grain for seed, coal, cement and dressed lumber. The Davis and Hyde Mill can also furnish coal, feed, and do your grinding.

“The Shreve Chair Factory employs forty men. Messrs. Dorn and Jackson make cornices, fronts, and tanks. L.L. Hartwell manufactures harnesses. The New Central Hotel is owned by J.A. Haworth; Lake View Hotel is owned by D.W. Higgins.

“William Huff is an extensive shipper of livestock. J.M. McDannell conducts a first class bakery. Dr. Green and Dr. Small are the dentists. Squire Kinney and Squire Hoffman are the legal men. J.E. Winans and James Gates are artists in the line of barber work. The physicians are Dr. F.P. Fisher and G.T. Waggoner.

“Music for all occasions will be furnished by the Clear Lake Band. Leon Morris furnishes groceries and hardware. John Webb also has groceries and hardware. The Messengers and Goldstein will sell you anything in dry goods. A.E. Morton has furniture and is also the undertaker. Rexford and Miller have the drug store and also a jewelery (sic) store and Rexford will repair your watch. Gus Smeltzer will sell you shoes. There are four blacksmith shops.”

(Historical material adapted from A Brief Outline of the History of Sparta and Spartansburg by Ralph Elliott Blakeslee.)


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 7, by Beverley Bittner

October 21, 2017
Steve Campbell

Corry’s First Mayor.

By Beverley Bittner, From the autumn, 1979 issue of Reminiscence.

Many men and women walked across the pages of our history in the early days, leaving footprints for historians to ponder over for all time. Familiar names include: Michael Hare, Call and Rihue.

Nothing is known of Call and Rihue, while Hare was famed for his longevity and military exploits. Others include: Amos Heath, who came to our area in 1795; Alexander McDowell, who surveyed the area in 1799; and Amos Harrington, who purchased ninety-three acres from the Holland Land Company in 1858. One month later he sold sixty-six acres to Hiram Cory for $463.

Others who bought land from the Holland Land Company about that time were: Jedediah Mather, George Keppel, Darius Mead, Isaac Colegrove, and Alfred Gates.

And then there was the first mayor of Corry, W.H.L. Smith. He was described as “a large man, a lawyer by education, very positive and somewhat blunt in manners.” He came to Corry in 1861 as a representative of Samuel Downer.

Downer was a successful Boston businessman, intelligent, with a good grasp of politics and a sort of intuition into human nature. Historians say he spoke little but listened much. He showed little ego but was determined to get ahead in the world even as a young man.

In the 1830s Downer was a salesman of high quality whale oil for spindles used in New England textile mills. Industry was expanding. Downer hired two salesmen to help him, paying them fifty percent of their sales. He was soon wealthy and continued to expand his business interests. He began to use kerosene for spindle oil.

When Downer heard about the first successful oil well in Titusville in 1859, he got at idea. If he could build a refinery near the oil fields, he would possess an advantage over his rivals in the oil business.

Downer sent W.H.L. Smith to scout out the land. Corry was a junction of two railroads. Except for a few scattered farmhouses, the only building was a small, wedge-shaped ticket office and eating house near the tracks. All around was swamp covered with huge pine and hemlock trees.

In Downer’s name, Smith purchased fifty acres of land from Hiram Cory. The fifty acres was laid out in town lots, and by Fall 1861, a frame building had been erected as an office for the Downer Oil Refinery. The first refinery was known as ‘‘the Frenchman’s.” It would grow to become the largest in the world in its time.

By Summer 1862, the Downer and Kent Oil Works and several other factories were in business. The Boston House, Gilson Hotel and many private homes were under construction to accommodate the thousands of persons flocking to the city to work or speculate in get-rich-quick schemes. Money was plentiful and real estate sold readily. Fortunes were made and lost overnight.

An old history book describes the Corry scene in 1862:

Corry is one of the wonders of the age in which we live – the creation of the combined effort of oil and steel. Some half dozen locomotives puffing and screaming, long trains of cars laden with oil, barrels standing along the tracks, one of the largest brick refineries, a large hotel, many houses give unmistakable evidence of a prosperous village where but a few months since stood the primeval forest.”

Smith lived in Corry until 1878. As a sign of the respect he enjoyed, he was elected the city’s first mayor in 1866. He served a one-year term.

“A fitting tribute,” said a historian, “after all, the city owes its existence to W.H.L. Smith.” That may be an overstatement, but Smith certainly played his part in the unfolding of Corry history.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 6, by Beverley Bittner

October 20, 2017
Steve Campbell

Union and the War of 1812.

By Beverley Bittner, From Brown-Thompson Newspapers, January 1974.

It was a time of western expansion. Many who settled in our area soon pushed further westward. By 1811, more than half of the original settlers had left the county, believing that all who did not leave must starve.

While their fields were being cleared, the settlers were dependent on boats to bring supplies. Those who did not have money to pay for goods became indebted to the land agent. Many became so deeply in debt that they had to leave.

The clearings were all very small yet, for the first settlers did not understand how to clear land, according to “The History of Union Township” by David Wilson.

The wide extended forest induced a great deal of rainfall, Wilson wrote in 1881, and the wind could not get into the little clearings. Consequently, the frost settled down in them a month earlier in the Fall than it does now.

The roads were only paths through the woods, and there were not yet enough people to make good roads. It required a great deal of courage, hope and perseverance to enable any to stay, but fortunately for the future of the country there were those who were equal to the task, says Wilson.

Soon another trouble was to meet the struggling pioneers. A cloud was rising on the political horizon which threatened a war with Great Britain. This was the War of 1812, which, when it did come, affected every family in even our remote area.

Almost every able-bodied man was subject to the draft. Early settlers, James Gray, his brother William, and John Frampton were obliged to join Harrison’s army and participate in his memorable campaign in the Northwest.

There they met James Smiley, who four years later came to Union and took charge of the mills which had been built in 1800 by William Miles.

The troops rendezvoused at the head of Lake Erie on January 12, 1813. The hardships of that bitter winter march and fighting left William Gray in impaired health, and John Frampton dead. While in Harrison’s army, James Gray gained renown for his great strength. He was said to have lifted a cannon that no other soldier could lift.

The Militia

All able-bodied men who escaped the draft were called out to guard (Captain Oliver Hazard) Perry’s fleet while it was being built in the Erie harbor. They stayed until the fleet was completed and then were allowed to return home.

The militia was called out again that winter, ostensibly to protect the town of Erie, lest the British should cross the lake on the ice and burn it. This drafting of the men for militia duty made it very difficult for the women, who were often isolated in their cabins, for the families were far apart, and the paths not broken through the snow, and the snow often as much as two feet deep.

One family’s experience was this: Hugh Wilson was drafted with less than 24 hours notice of the time he must report. No substitute could possibly be obtained, and if he did not go at the time appointed he would be caught and shot as a deserter. He did not even have time to cut firewood for his family.

The Wilsons had at that time seven children, the oldest three being girls, and the oldest girl about fifteen.

Hannah Wilson had several cows, some young cattle and a few sheep to take care of, besides her family. Their hay was scarce and the animals had to browse for some of their food. She fed the animals what she could spare, chopped what wood she needed, and felled some basswood trees for browse, and let the animals out.

The men were away six weeks. During that time Mrs. Wilson and her children lived without seeing another human being except for a neighbor boy from three miles away who came once to see if they were all right.

An enterprising grocer

There was a great deal of controversy as to the necessity of this draft. Some felt that R. J. Reed, an Erie merchant, misrepresented the danger to Brigadier General Mead, of Meadville, in order to have the militia called out. Mr. Reed’s motive, some believed, was a large store of flour he had on hand and could not sell, except to the Army.

In support of this theory, David Wilson writes, it was argued that although the British had burned Buffalo and the village of Black Rock, yet no general would require his men to march fifty miles over a field of ice exposed to the keen winds of winter without an object.

There was no garrison and no munitions of war at Erie, nothing but Reed’s flour, and the British did not know anything about that, and there could be no object in burning the few scattering houses of a village like Erie.

Besides, the lake does not freeze over in the winter, but perhaps General Mead and the enterprising grocer did not know that, Wilson concludes.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 5, by Beverley Bittner

October 19, 2017
Steve Campbell

Union Township: How the Pioneers Lived.

By Beverley Bittner, From the spring, 1978 issue of Reminisence.

By the 1790s the great western migration that followed the Revolutionary War had begun in earnest. The Indians had been pacified. The deep forests, game, clear rushing streams and rivers and the opportunity to live free, away from the crowded eastern seaboard attracted restless men and women to northwestern Pennsylvania.

Most arrived in the summer months, but by the time they had cleared land, built cabins, and cut trees, it was too late to plant crops. The settlers were dependent on provisions brought up rivers by barges, then carried overland. Many were in debt. Some left to seek better fortune further west, or to go back east where families and friends still lived. Only the most hardy remained in the Union (Township) area.

Those who stayed settled in and made comfortable homes for themselves by much hard work. The names are legend: Matthew Grey, John Wilson, James Grey, William Miles.

By the Fall of 1799, the first comers found themselves with corn, potatoes and vegetables grown in their little clearings. Now a new difficulty presented itself. There was not a mill within one hundred miles to grind the first crop of corn.

Some of the women knew how to make the corn into hominy, which was nutritious and palatable. They also contrived to pound their corn into meal in mortars. The mortars were generally made by cutting off the top of a solid stump, and burning the center of the stump down lower than the rim, making it the shape of a bell turned upside down. The coals were carefully dug out and the mortar was ready for use.

Leather was always in demand. Matthew Grey set up a small tannery sufficient for the needs of the area. Hides were brought to him from miles around.

Daniel Herrington set up a blacksmith shop at the foot of Ox Bow Hill and did all the work of smith for the area until Able Thompson set up the trade at Union (now Union City) in 1801. Thompson bought forty acres from William Miles and his mill was set up within a half mile of the site Miles intended to build a grist mill.

Thompson brought with him a family of five sons and two daughters. The men were all mechanics and very ingenious. Besides blacksmithing, they were also stone cutters, and out of the flinty boulders which they found in the woods, made grinders for the new mill. All the tombstones in the area which are of native stone, showed son Joel’s handiwork.

The Thompsons also for many years made all the farming and household utensils for the county, which were made of iron or steel, such as hoes, hay and manure forks, harrow pins, and plow irons, which they had to sharpen frequently. They also made the shovels and tongs which were used at every fireplace.

They had a set of moulds for running spoons, and if any of the citizens could afford pewter, Abel Thompson would make them spoons of it. Jeb, another son, preferred to work in wood and set up a shop at the mouth ofCarroU’s run, and put in a turning lathe to go by water. He made wooden bowls and many other articles, including wheels for spinning flax and wool.

Abel’s son, Caleb, became a farmer, but was also a carpenter and jointer. Charles, Abel’s fifth son, was a shoemaker.

The building of the grist mill was an important event and took many months of work. A dam was built. The race above and below the mills had to be dug, and all the logs cut and hewn by hand. The nails and spikes in the mills and all the houses built for many years were drawn out on the blacksmith’s anvil, for cut nails were not yet invented.

Besides the grist mill, William Miles constructed a saw mill at about the same time. The benefits of the mills had been enjoyed only about a year when they caught fire and burned down. This was a great calamity, not only to the people of southeastern Erie County, but also those in eastern Crawford County. All the settlers patronized the mills except those who lived nearer to Culbertson’s mill on Conneaut Lake, which was built about the same time as the Miles’ mills. Everybody believed the mills had been set on fire deliberately, but no one was ever convicted of the crime.

The mills were rebuilt and life went on.

As we go to the stores now we expect to find whatever we need or want. We seldom think of our ancestors who had to make what they needed or go without!


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 4, by Beverley Bittner

October 18, 2017
Steve Campbell

Lowville.

By Beverley Bittner, From the Erie Times-News, August 28, 1988.

Lowville is a small settlement just north of Wattsburg at the intersection of Routes 8 and 89.

“It used to be quite an active stagecoach stop,” a former resident said. ‘‘My mother told how they used to drive cattle up Route 8 – it was a plank road then – from Union City all the way to a slaughter house on Parade Street in Erie. All they needed were two good cow dogs and two or three men. It was not until the early 1920s that Route 8 was paved,” she continued. “There was a large general store that included until the late 1890s, a post office. A dam on French Creek powered feed and cider mills and the crossroads was a station where farmers dropped off milk for the Wattsburg cheese factory.”


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 3, by Beverley Bittner

October 17, 2017
Steve Campbell

William Crawford.

By Beverley Bittner.

Michael Hare claimed to have witnessed the horrible death of famed frontier soldier Col. William Crawford.

The colonel was a personal friend of George Washington. From Fort Pitt, he led many raids against hostile Indians.

In 1782, the fifty-year-old colonel led a major expedition into Ohio to put down an Indian uprising. He first encountered a group of Moravian Christian Indians and massacred them all. Then he came across a band of warlike Delawares. At first the battle went Crawford’s way. The fighting was fierce, then more Indians arrived, and finally Butler’s Rangers, a mixture of Tories, Indians, and regular British troops.

Crawford ordered his defeated troops to retreat.

As he attempted to reach the Ohio River at night, he was captured by Delawares. They marched their prized captive to a campsite near Sandusky and tethered him to a pole by a long leash. Fires were lit around the pole and the colonel was forced to dance through them as he was chased by frenzied Indians who poked at him with firesticks or flintlock rifles.

He died at the stake June 11, 1782.

Although Col. Crawford never lived in the county, in 1800 he was honored for his service to the state, by having Crawford County named for him.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 2, by Beverley Bittner

October 16, 2017
Steve Campbell

Michael Hare.

By Beverley Bittner, From Steppin’ Out, 1973.

The full title is “Olden Times, or a History of the Settlement of Union Township and Vicinity.” The writer is David Wilson. His parents, Hugh and Hannah Wilson, settled in the Union area in 1797. David’s book was published in 1881 by the Times Steam Printing House in Union City.

The following is a chapter from David Wilson’s book:

“I will now write something about a man who did not live in Union except for a short time, yet he lived near by and was well known by all in the settlement. Michael Hare has had some very absurb (sic) things written about him since his death.

“About a mile north of the city of Corry and a few rods east of Hare’s Creek may be seen a clump of old apple trees which mark the spot where Michael Hare and Betty, his wife, built their cabin in the wilderness about eighty-four years ago (about 1797).

“They came with the first settlers. The creek was named for him, because he lived on its banks. After some years, Michael moved near French Creek, and made several moves in that vicinity before his death. He was a weaver by trade, and if any of the neighbors had a piece of fancy work that ordinary weavers could not do, such as double coverlets or bagging of double thickness, twilled on one side and plain on the other, if they would send for Mr. Hare, he would go, be it far or near, and rig up their loom and show them how to weave it, and charge the sum of two dollars.

“The writer has a bag that will hold three bushels, woven by Mr. Hare. It may rot in time, but we are satisfied it will never wear out. At such times (when he was weaving) he was free to talk of his own history, and what he had passed through, and boys who were present would be deeply impressed with the more thrilling incidents of his life, remembering them long.

“He had been a soldier in the American Revolution, and under Col. Rogers he had been down to New Orleans to bring up boats loaded with provisions, to supply stations along the Ohio River, and on their return, at the mouth of Licking River in Kentucky, the place where the city of Covington now stands, they were attacked by a large body of Indians, and after a desperate fight in which Col. Rogers and about sixty of his men were killed, some of their boats were captured.

“Michael Hare was taken prisoner and marched to northern Ohio, where he became acquainted with Simon Girty, the renegade white man, who was such a terror to all the settlers on the frontier in those days. He said also that he was present when Col. Crawford was burned at Sandusky. We find the date of the battle in which Michael was taken prisoner in 1779, and Col. Crawford was burned in 1782, so Michael must have been a captive at least three years, and probably he did not get out of the Indians’ clutches until the close of the war, which was a year later.

“When asked about his age, Hare said that he had lost the record long ago, and could not tell his age, and this is not strange when we consider the events of his life. But from the date of certain events he knew he was quite old, and before his death said he was more than a hundred years old.

“After his death, however, an Erie newspaper fixed his age at 115, and it stood at that until a year later, when a Buffalo newspaper wanting to make it a little more marvelous, said he was 116 when he died, and that he was proved alive every year until 1843 when he died, and that he was a British soldier all through the Revolutionary War.

“This article was copied in the New York Times and perhaps many other papers, and when we read it, we thought that if Michael could be permitted to come back, perhaps he would like to try his old flint lock on the man who first wrote that he had carried arms under the British flag against the colonies!”

Mr. Wilson concludes his chapter on Michael Hare by stating, “Michael had two sons. James lived in Union and John in Waterford Township, but they are both long since dead. He has grandchildren and great- grandchildren still among us.”

Other facts (and some legends) about Michael Hare:

* He was born June 10, 1727 in Armaugh County, Ireland.
* He had studied for the priesthood.
* He was scalped by Indians but survived.
* At age 100 he taught school, first in his cabin then later in a school built in his vicinity.
* He was given a grant of land as payment for his service in the Revolutionary War.
* At age 80 he was granted a pension of $96 a month and $1, 000 in back pay.
* At age 85 he walked to Erie and offered his services to Captain Forster in the War of 1812.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Chapter 1, by Beverley Bittner

October 15, 2017
Steve Campbell

Waterford: No Castles or Brick Houses in 1795.

By Beverley Bittner, From the autumn, 1980 issue of Reminiscence.

By the mid-1700’s, the French had built several forts along Lake Erie. They did not seize the land from the Indians, but only traded there and by gifts and promises made friends of the Indians. The forts were to insure their trading rights. It appeared that they intended to contest Great Britain’s claim to the territory.

In 1753, 21-year-old George Washington, wearing the plain blue uniform of the Virginia militia, led an expedition to scout the area west of the Allegheny Mountains. With his men he paddled up French Creek to Fort LeBoeuf to deliver a letter of protest from Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia to the commander of the French fort.

The letter expressed surprise that “on property so notoriously known to belong to Great Britain … a body of French forces are erecting fortresses and making settlements.”

Washington’s account of his trip was published by the governor. That account, including many details of the French operations, influenced the colonists and Great Britain to take immediate action against the French on the frontier.

The French and Indian War ended in 1760, leaving all the western Pennsylvania area under the control of the English. The French soldiers burned Fort LeBoeuf and their other forts as they retreated north.

The Indians in the area tolerated the English, but made no secret of the fact that they had liked the French better. However, the English rebuilt Fort LeBoeuf as well as other forts along Lake Erie and in the wilderness.

An influential Indian chief, Pontiac, head of the Ottawa tribe, pretended to be friendly with the English, but secretly plotted with other tribes to attack them. The Indians took the English by surprise. Nine of the thirteen forts in the Western Lands fell to Indian attack. Among those to fall was Fort LeBoeuf.

The fort was attacked on June 17, 1763 by more than 200 Senecas and Ottawas. The thirteen soldiers manning the fort had no chance to defend it. They escaped through a drainage tile at night, hiding in the woods and swamps until they could make their way to Pittsburgh. The Indians burned the fort the next day, then marched on to Presque Isle, where that fort fell five days later.

After the forts were captured and burned by Indians, the sparsely settled area was indeed “a dark and bloody ground.” Hundreds of traders and settlers were shot, tomahawked, or scalped. A 1763 treaty with the ‘Indians was soon broken. Another the next year was also broken almost before it was signed.

The English made no attempt to rebuild the forts. The land was in complete control of the Indian tribes as far south as Pittsburgh and east into New York State.

But civilization was not to be denied. In 1788, a large tract in western Pennsylvania was made the County of Allegheny with Pittsburgh as the seat of justice. The tract known as the Triangle, which included Presque Isle harbor, was purchased by Pennsylvania from the United States government in 1792.

The state then had to purchase the land from the Indians, paying $1,200. Another tribe then wanted to be paid also and were given $800. At last, it seemed safe to survey the land and encourage settlers to come.

Andrew Ellicott, the leading surveyor in the country, (he had surveyed the western Pennsylvania border and had assisted in laying out the nation’s new capital, Washington) was hired. Part of his job was to layout the towns of Erie, Franklin and Waterford in 1795.

Ellicott’s men left Philadephia in May, 1795, first visiting Pittsburgh, where George Burges, one of the surveyors, wrote in his diary, “We put our horses to pasture and spent the day in viewing the town and forts, which is a very pleasant place, but many of the inhabitants a very corrupt people.”

On June 23rd, Burges wrote at Fort LeBoeuf, “We have now fixed a place for the market with many of the main streets, but yet there are no castles nor brick houses, but on the contrary, but five or six little dirty log huts surrounded by a great wilderness of seventy or eighty miles with Indians hooping and halloing and begging for whisky.”

Burges continued in a philosophical bent, “Should providence grant (it to become a city of commerce) may pride and avarice keep far distant and not make it appear more savage than its present state.”

Burges’s wish seems to have been granted as Waterford never became a city of commerce. It remains today a quiet, serene small town, known to Corryites mostly as a pleasant spot to pass through on the way to Erie.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Area History, Introduction, by Beverley Bittner

October 14, 2017
Steve Campbell

From Beverley Bittner:

Readers:

From 1977 to 1979, I co-edited and wrote for the Reminiscence magazine, a popular 12-page publication of local history. I also wrote on history for Steppin’ Out magazine and newspapers.

I found a box of clippings from these writings recently in an unused closet. What fun I had reading those old narratives! I went to bed with visions of brave pioneer women like Harriet Blakeslee and Hannah Wilson. I think I dreamed of Michael Hare, his nimble fingers weaving an intricate bag for grain, telling tales of his war adventures to awestruck boys. I could almost see Colonel William Crawford tied to a stake while fires were ignited around him. I saw in my mind the almost impenetrable forests surveyor George Burges described at Fort LeBouf as “a great wilderness … with Indians hooping and halloing and begging for whisky.”

History is about the people who lived it. These wonderful old stories must be told to every generation. Most of the articles in this book appeared under my by-line in the 1970s. In some instances, I have added information not available to me then.

Dear reader, history isn’t only about the people who live it, after all. It’s about buildings, newspapers, books, well-traveled roads, hard work, dreams – and memories. Enjoy these glimpses back in time. Then put the book aside for your children and grandchildren. History is – timeless.

Beverley Bittner
Corry, PA, 1999


Editor’s Note:

The history from Beverley’s book pertains to the northwest section of Pennsylvania, commonly called “the chimney” by local schoolchildren.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Inheritance, by Carolyn Cox

October 12, 2017
Steve Campbell

We sit on Mother Earth,
Her watchful eye and furrowed brow creased in worry
As she watches over us with feet of prosperity.

Pollution and decay all around us;
We who snatch the grain from her warm, soft soil,
Always taking, never giving
While birds of the field scatter seed to replenish her storehouse.

We who had everything now have nothing;
Our wretched selves have robbed us of our inheritance
For we squandered the plenty of the land.

Copyright © 1999, Carolyn Cox


About Carolyn

Carolyn Cox isn’t yet sure where her writing will take her. Her interests in writing range from poetry, to fiction, to history, to interviews, to a projected novel “based on my life.” Add her enjoyment in reading historical romances and mysteries and you have a writer with many possibilities.

Carolyn has written for Steppin’ Out magazine, the Erie Times-News newspaper, the Corry Journal newspaper, and the local Cancer Society newsletter. Some of her favorite articles were about cats, games of the Crow Indians, and historical sites, such as Howard’s Tannery and Moore’s Little Store.

“The Writer’s Block gives me ideas, motivation and support,” she says. “Plus we’ve developed a deep rapport among members.”

“My husband Charlie is very supportive of all I do,” she adds.

Getting Started, by Beverley Bittner

October 11, 2017
Steve Campbell

From the Help Desk of Beverley Bittner.

Most of us have read a poem, a story or an article that caused us to exclaim, “I could write like that, maybe even better, if only I knew how to get started.

Kathy has a book of fiction in the works. She has a plot, she knows her characters, but (in my opinion) is trying to tell too much of the story in her first chapter. Here are a few suggestions that might help Kathy and you and I get started right.

The first chapter has only two basic purposes.

  1. To introduce the main character (or two of the main characters). That means a physical description, hint at the problem he/she faces that will be the basis of conflict in the book. When and where the story is taking place can be shown by a few words. “Action”, “show”, “don’t tell” are words to keep you on track. (Introducing characters, one by one, each in a separate chapter is a good way to get your novel moving along.)
  2. You must HOOK the reader in your first paragraphs and certainly in the first chapter. Don’t overload the reader with background and facts that can be brought out later. By promising lots of action, dialogue, backstory in small doses, you can make the reader WANT to read your book. If you don’t hook him in the first pages, you have lost your reader.

The first scene of the first chapter must tell:

WHO is the story about?
WHERE and WHEN is the story taking place?
WHY is the main character there?
WHAT problems is the character facing?

This may seem like a lot of information to get in the first scene, but remember you don’t want to give away your story or tell too much. Be a tease, hint at events to come.

Now that all-important first sentence

It should tell something about the main character. It should tell something about or hint at the character’s problem, and the theme of the book. Is it a mystery? Love story? Inspirational? Is a historical event itself the focus of the story?

If you have a work in progress, look at it and see if your opening sentence, scene and first chapter measure up to these guidelines. If it is a first, second, or third draft, probably not. Only by rereading, rewriting, and finally working as your own editor, will your first chapter pass the eagle eye of an admissions editor.


Here at Writer’s Block we have two goals: (1) to help people of all ages learn to share their ideas and experiences through the written word, and (2) to promote reading for pleasure and learning.

For our Corry, Pennsylvania area friends, we have several appearances scheduled during the year where we can meet you in person. We look forward to seeing you, so please stop and say hello.

We are aware that some of our readers are far away from our small, rural community in Northwestern Pennsylvania. It is thrilling to read our weekly stats and find that we have had “hits” from Australia, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Our fine and knowledgeable Webmaster told us, “You have got to start thinking globally.” As always, he was right!

It is indeed a small world, thanks to the worldwide web. We welcome everyone of like interests to be part of our world of reading, writing, and lifelong learning. E-mail us your questions, comments, or ideas.

That’s all from the Editor’s Desk for this month…

—Beverley Bittner
Copyright © 1999


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

Corry Writer’s Block Blog

October 10, 2017
Steve Campbell

A quick shout-out to those of you who belonged to the Writer’s Block writing group in Corry, PA. I joined the group in 2002, three years after Corry author and newspaper columnist Beverley Bittner founded it.

I decided to post some the group’s old news columns and stories for historical reasons. Our group didn’t have a historian, so I will use old notes and files from the nine years I was president and webmaster. I lack many newsletters and website archives from the earlier three years, so contact me if you have any 1999–2002 newsletters and any photos of the group in action.

New Ridgewood, 2

October 4, 2017
Steve Campbell

Wherever Vree was, she could not see much, just gray darkness similar to the warm and safe kind beneath her blankets when she and Zoey used them for tents in her bedroom. But she was not beneath her blankets. The grayness was infinite here, wherever here was, and she floated and rolled and swam in it, which made her certain she was dreaming.

There was nothing to look at, only her hands and arms and the rest of her body below her head, though they were almost impossible to see in the grayness. She wore a gown—no. Not a gown. It was a long T-shirt—the kind she wore as pajamas. She also had a pair of white ankle socks on feet that seemed far away. They floated in and out of sight.

She grew bored with floating, so she sat, surprised to find a plush seat beneath her—a sofa by its size and shape when she stretched out her arms on either side.

“Nice,” she said.

The sofa made a comfortable bed.

“Very nice.”

She floated alone. And she liked it.

She floated with her sofa, going nowhere.

There was no sense of emergency here—no alarm to awaken her to another day of chores, no schedules to follow and adhere to, and no places to be at, like Chase’s baseball games and Emma’s piano recitals.

She liked that, too.

Except for the infinite grayness. It was like being underwater. She searched for color. She had seen plenty of colorful underwater worlds of coral reefs and tropical fish.

But this was not the ocean.

“Where am I?” she asked a pinpoint of white light far above her, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away.

An urgent need to go to it overwhelmed her. Whatever was there was important. Perhaps color was there.

“Hurry,” she said to her sofa, which floated and ignored her requests for it to speed to the light. “I need to go there. Now.”

“Let it come to you,” a familiar voice said from the seat to her right.

“Daddy?” Vree squealed, delighted to hear his voice.

“Be patient,” he said from the grayness, his thin body an almost featureless shape in the seat next to her. She scrambled from her seat and leapt in his embrace of long arms that wrapped around her and held her close. His Aqua Velva cologne made her grin wide while she snuggled against him.

Sudden white light bathed them as though someone had flicked on a light switch. Vree fell from her father’s embrace but remained snuggled against him. He wore his usual dark work suit and shoes—all business. And her T-shirt was the Bugs Bunny one from last Christmas.

She smiled a short-lived grin at her father who now wore his blue silk robe and matching pajamas and slippers from the same Christmas.

“How did you change clothes so fast?” she asked.

“It’s Christmas,” he said, pointing a long finger at the infinite white space in front of them. Vree looked. She wanted to see a Christmas tree and decorations there, but there was none. No Christmas smells of cookies and cake, and no carols playing in the background. No noise at all.

Someone coughed. A quick, soft cough loud enough that it sent her attention to an armchair that descended from above them. It stopped in front of the sofa and a girl looked up from an open, oversized hardcover book.

“You look like me,” Vree said.

The doppelganger smiled at her, then closed the book softly and laid it in her lap of skinny leg jeans—Vree’s favorite pair from last Christmas. She even wore Vree’s oversized tank top with a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front, which had also been a Christmas gift. Her blonde hair—either fastened in a bun or a ponytail in the back—was pulled tight from her face.

Vree noticed her own hair was loose and draped around her neck and shoulders.

“Who is she?” Vree asked her father.

“I’m you,” the doppelganger said.

“This is such a weird dream,” Vree said. “I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about me before.”

“’Tis no dream, girlfriend,” the other Vree said. “Welcome to one of death’s many realities … home away from home … the land of repetition and boredom.” She yawned audibly.

“Hush,” Charles said to her. Then, to Vree, he said, “She’s your subconscious. She needs to be a part of you, not floating here without you. You must pull her in so you can recover. The two of you need to be one again.”

Vree clutched her father’s arm in a tight embrace. “Recover from what?”

“A coma,” the other Vree called out. “Lightning struck us. It killed Daddy and put us in the hospital, unconscious.”

Vree scowled at the girl. “I don’t like this dream. I wish you’d go away.”

“You’re in denial, girlfriend. But that doesn’t change the facts. You need to wake from this coma.”

“I don’t believe you,” Vree said. “Daddy’s right here. This is just a dream trying to go bad.” She searched her father’s solemn face. “Tell her she’s crazy.”

Charles met her gaze. “To awaken from your coma, you need to be one with your subconscious and create order in your mind. You need to embrace your subconscious again.”

Vree shook her head.

“You can do this, Vree, honey,” Charles said. “The lightning separated you from your subconscious, but it also triggered special abilities in you. You need your subconscious so you can live.”

Vree let go of his arm and scooted away. She crossed her arms over her chest and said, “This is just a dream.”

No one said anything.

Vree uncrossed her arms and looked down at herself. She no longer wore the Bugs Bunny shirt. Her red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt made her think of rain, thunder, and—

“If this isn’t a dream, then where am I?”

“Somewhere between life and death.”

Vree moaned and shook her head.

“Hey-hey, girlfriend,” the other Vree called out, “where’s the love?”

“I don’t love you!”

“Without her, you cannot live,” Charles said.

“If all this is true and you’re dead but I’m not, I don’t wanna live without you.”

“Hush your nonsense, Verawenda Renee. You need to continue living. You need to do important things where you’re going. Now, sit up straight, chin out, and bring your subconscious to you. Think it and it will happen. Accept her and she will come. Let it happen.”

Vree frowned at him. He had moved closer to her. She reached out and took one of his hands in hers. He lifted it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Then he released it. A white light glowed from her hand, spread up her arm, then over her body until the light bathed her.

Across the short distance, white light bathed the other Vree.

“Now that you’re awakening, it’s time for me to go.” Charles’s form grew translucent. “The path of your new life will be difficult, especially where you are headed. But your subconscious will be with you to help.” He raised a finger to hush her interruption. “You can do this.”

He vanished.

The light hurt Vree’s eyes, so she covered them with her hands. She did not see the lights from each body connect and become one.

“Breathe,” the other Vree said, her voice coming from all directions.

“I am breathing.” Vree sucked in a breath. “See?”

“Deeper. I want you to take a deep breath this time. A really big breath.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

Vree uncovered her eyes but kept them closed. Then she took in a deep breath.

The light vanished. So did Vree.

*.*.*

New Ridgewood, 1

October 2, 2017
Steve Campbell

Ridgewood continues to change. The same goes for her characters. After all, real-life 2017 is a bizarre, stranger time than 1970 when I began creating the place and her residents. And no matter how fictional they are, they need an essence of reality to make them current and believable.

I have told Vree Erickson’s story before. But no matter, it wants to change with the times. So I stopped wrestling with it over the summer and let it happen—let it write itself.

Here is the beginning of Vree’s story with new life breathed into it.


Vree Erickson yanked the steering wheel of her father’s John Deere riding mower and dodged mowing over her brother’s black leather baseball glove. Surface roots of the old oak tree in her parents’ backyard jostled her while she tried steering away from them. The lawnmower pitched left, right, left again, tossing her like yesterday’s roller coaster ride on Old Shaky, and then… BAM. The deck slammed down on a root. The blade stopped. The motor whined. Vree took her foot from the gas pedal and groaned. She had promised her father that she would be careful mowing the lawn this time.

But this was not her fault. Chase had promised that he had picked up his sports equipment before he, Emma and their mom left to shop at Ridgewood Village Mall an hour ago. Now Vree pondered what to do about the mower. All she knew was how to check and fill the gas tank and oil, and how to start it and turn it off. Driving the thing over the hilly terrain without killing herself was a plus.

“Hello? Vree? Are you there?” Zoey’s voice brought her back.

“Let me call you back,” Vree said to the voice in her pink and black headphones over her ears. She shut off the mower’s engine.

“Are you okay?” Zoey asked. “It sounded like you were in an accident.”

“My stupid brother left his glove in the yard, which caused me to get the lawnmower stuck on some tree roots. My dad’s gonna kill me if I broke anything.”

“Do you need me to come over?” Zoey asked.

Vree sat forward, tugged her red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt from her sweaty back, then wiped her palms on the knees of her blue jeans. “I’m okay,” she answered. A wet breeze blew the ends of her long blonde hair across her face, covering her eyes for a moment. She pushed her hair away and shivered from another breeze. The sunny day had turned gray in an instant.

“You get ready for my birthday party,” she said. “I’ll push the mower into the shed and finish cleaning the kitchen and living room.”

“I’m so excited for you,” Zoey said before she squealed. “You’re a teenager now.”

Vree shrugged. She didn’t feel any different.

“See you at six, birthday girl,” Zoey said before she ended the call.

Vree removed the Bluetooth headphones and put them over the steering wheel. Then she jumped from the tractor, pulled her hair back, twirled it into a bun, and hurried to the rear of the lawnmower. She needed to finish her chores by four o’clock and shower before Mom got home from shopping.

She placed both hands on the back of the seat and rocked the mower, grunting and pushing it until it was away from the roots. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it. Daddy would be disappointed in her for damaging his grandfather’s oak tree—again. Luckily, there was a can of tree wound sealer in the shed left over from last year.

She leapt into her seat and tried starting the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life as it was supposed to do.

If the lawnmower was broken…. She groaned. This was different from staying out past curfew, or cutting her hair uneven with Mom’s good scrapbook scissors, or vomiting corndogs on Daddy at Alice Lake’s rollercoaster ride yesterday.

“Come on,” she begged as she tried the engine again. Things had to start going her way.

Thunder banged from a sky that had grown darker with bruised looking clouds. Her phone’s weather app had told her it would rain today. If only her phone had an app to let her know when she was about to screw up her life.

I could dodge life’s embarrassments and stay out of trouble.

More thunder banged, vibrating its way into her. The sky seemed to open and drop a flood of rain past the umbrella of leafy branches and drenching her. She scampered to the tree trunk and shivered from the chill beneath heavy branches. Thirty yards away, her parents’ spacious Craftsman home beckoned her inside where it was dry and warm. Her orange tabby cat sat at the living room’s middle bay window, watching from behind the rain-streaked glass, and meowing for his three o’clock meal.

Vree looked away. Rain fell on the lawnmower and her good pair of headphones. She darted to the left side of the green and yellow mower and pushed, losing her footing twice on the wet grass after three steps. She hurried to the back of the mower.

After losing her footing again, she looked up. Her father’s black Escalade pulled in the driveway. She groaned. It wasn’t five o’clock. He wasn’t supposed to be home yet.

Charles Erickson hurried from his vehicle, leaving its headlights on, the engine running, and frantic wipers slapping rain from the windshield. He juggled his opened umbrella while he took to the right side of the mower and helped Vree push the tractor across the soggy ground, closer to the shed behind the garage.

A flash of bright white light and tremendous heat engulfed Vree. Something popped in her head. She fell unconscious to the freshly mowed grass, unaware that lightning had struck the oak tree, her, and her father, knocking Charles Maxwell Erickson, Esquire, out of his polished, black leather Florsheim wingtip oxfords.

An hour later, after Karrie Erickson returned home from shopping with Vree’s older brother and sister, the successful private practice lawyer, who had earned as much as six figures last year, lay dead inside the same Ridgewood ambulance that rushed his comatose daughter to the hospital.

*.*.*

To be continued, for sure.

Vree’s Journal Entry 6

August 13, 2017
Steve Campbell

It took me a while to dig up this information. Here it is:

Balen Renfrew, My Wizard Uncle

Balen James Renfrew is my maternal grandmother’s 45-year-old son. He has thick, dark-brown hair, beard stubble (he calls it 5 o’clock shadow—he always looks like he needs to shave before the end of the day), dark blue eyes that sometimes look black, and very white teeth, which shows often when he smiles. He has a thin build but is strong. I saw him once without a shirt and he had a well-toned chest and muscular arms. And he walks with a small limp—he favors his right leg.

He often wears buttoned shirts with collars and sharp-pressed trousers, though he does wear jeans. His shoes, however, are dark brown leather oxfords, and his socks are black. Oddly, when the weather cools, he wears a long, knitted gray scarf around his neck.

Balen is a wizard with limited magic. He can move small objects with his mind, see an hour into the future (in short flashes and not always clearly), communicate/converse aloud and silently with animals, see auras (energy fields), hover up to 3’ off the ground for almost 5 minutes, leave his body and travel in spirit to locations less than a mile away, sense psychic impressions (vibrations) left on an object by someone connected with it, and sense the needs, drives, and emotions of people nearby. Really weird and unsettling is how well he can communicate mind-to-mind with me, read my thoughts and hear me when we’re miles apart, and how quick he can start fires with his mind.

Although he is 45 years old by mortal standards, his wizard blood has slowed his aging and he looks younger. (At 100, he will hardly look any older.) His eyes, however, reveal the truth, if you look hard enough. Because he lives on Myers Ridge, he battles every second the effects of the curse a witch named Margga Dekownik unleashed years ago. He has to take a special medicine to survive the curse and not lose his magic to it.

Since wizards can live to be 800+ years old—Balen is a child at 45. By comparison, his father Trevor Renfrew is in his “senior citizen” years at 693. Like many wizards, Trevor Renfrew has the unique ability to appear a tenth of his age for every 100 years. When my grandmother lived with him, she discovered his true age after Balen’s birth and felt deceived by his dishonesty. When she left Balen in his care, he raised the boy in Paris, France. Balen returned to his birthplace three years ago and moved to Myers Ridge three months later, secretly watching over his birth mother, his half-sister Karrie, and me.

Balen has 2 stepsisters and a stepbrother sired by Trevor: Phoebe is 516, birthed by Trevor’s first wife Bianca (who died from complications while giving birth), Dextra is 475 and Julius is 401—both birthed by Trevor’s second wife Floris (who presides over the Council of Magic).

Balen lives in a double-wide trailer on a tiny parcel of property along Russell Road on Myers Ridge, though he is tremendously wealthy, with 90 million dollars in various banks, local and abroad—wealth given him by his father, earned and stolen over the years. His father and stepmother belong to the Council of Magic that executed Margga and imprisoned her ghost/spirit to Yalendora. I accidentally released Margga’s spirit to return to Myers Ridge where she tormented my friend Lenny Stevens and his family and tried killing them before she destroyed herself while fighting me for my psychic powers.

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A Past Kept In Shoeboxes

August 4, 2017
Steve Campbell

I used to keep my snapshot photographs stored in albums. When I married and had children, my wife and I did the same for many years. Then, somewhere along the passage of time, we stopped storing our photos in albums and tossed them into empty shoeboxes instead. Now we have 30+ years of unlabeled shoeboxes stacked in storage, filled to their brims with photos of births and birthdays and holidays that we barely remember. That’s why it’s fun to open a box and delve into those recordings of yesteryear, to refresh those memories, and to feel again the old days.

Last week, I tackled rearranging items in our basement storage room because I plan to use a corner as an extension of my writing room. So, while I moved some shoeboxes and peeked inside the last one, I found photos of my college days, back when I was an avid outdoorsman, wildlife artist and photographer, and often the bearer of flannel shirts and a bearded face. I know I’m the person in those photos, but he seems like a stranger: different in so many ways—from the clothes he wore and the food he ate to the movies he watched and the music he listened to. I wonder if I were able to travel back in time to those days, would he and I enjoy each other’s company. Hmm, story idea…

I always had my camera with me.

I always had my camera with me.

I always had my camera with me.

I always had my camera with me.

I always had my camera with me.

I always had my camera with me, even when it was hidden beneath my graduation robe.

Here are three of my many favorite photographs from my college years:

Red-tailed Hawk. One of my first honest-to-goodness wildlife photos that turned out decent.

Local church not far from my house.

Time lapse photography of downtown Corry, not far from my house.

Stranger yet was when I saw childhood photos that never made it into my old albums that are tucked away in bigger boxes. That kid was a 180-degree turn of the person I am now. And, oh, the stories I could tell him. He would be at his little portable typewriter for months writing about the old man who visited one day and told him some crazy things about his future. Hmm, another story idea…

Me at the bottom right, with some of my brothers and relatives.

The ancient Italian poet Virgil said that time flies, never to be recalled. Thankfully, 2,000 years after Virgil’s time, we have our albums and shoeboxes of photos to look back on.

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Hypnagogia

June 13, 2017
Steve Campbell

I awoke today with an intention to write something profound. Then I got out of bed.

There are moments between sleep and consciousness when our minds are busy creating. For me, whether when I’m falling asleep or awakening, that’s when stories play out and I see artwork happen in my mind. Psychologists call this stage “hypnagogia,” a borderland between sleep and wakefulness characterized by surreal visions and strange sensory occurrences.

I learned to use hypnagogia to my advantage when I was a teenager, which sometimes resulted in “trippy” art while I was in high school. I also used it to form story ideas. The best times to do this were those waking moments, which left imprints in my mind that I recorded as best as I could into drawing pads and notebooks I kept by my bed.

Cloud Ruler

Cloud Ruler, Acrylic Painting

A routine sleep schedule helped me to have hypnagogia occurrences during the same time every morning. I was most creative with my art and writing during my school years and later when I worked a routine 9-to-5 day job. But when my sleep schedule was everything but routine, my creativity was at its lowest. This occurred when I worked as a steward, baker, cook, mess hall manager, truck driver, bartender, and housing manager in the Navy, and again when I became employed in retail.

My current retail employer insists but doesn’t demand that I make myself available to work at any time and day … except Christmas (subject to change, I’m sure, by a growing mental illness among CEOs called Wealth Accumulation Disorder). Luckily, my department is a “day department,” so I have been able to stay away from what the company used to call third shift. I’m a “day person,” which means I don’t have to work past midnight, but I should be available to begin working at 6am. Luckily (and I’ll take all the luck I can get), my department doesn’t open until 9am, which means my days begin at eight thirty. Quitting time is 10pm, so each day is fractured into two shifts: 8:30am–5:30pm, and 5:30pm–10pm.

Hypnagogia rarely occurs when I’m scheduled a 5:30pm–10pm shift followed by an 8:30am–5:30pm shift. I’m certain the lack of hypnagogia happens because I’m used to going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6am. When I go to bed later than 10pm, I struggle to fall asleep and end up reading until midnight or later. My mind is blank at 6am on these nights, and so I spend the hour reserved for recording ideas hitting the snooze button before I have to take my morning dose of Synthroid before I can eat a proper breakfast.

Without hypnagogia occurrences, especially right before I awake, I find myself less alert on the job as well. Perhaps it’s because experiencing hypnagogia is a condition I’ve grown accustomed to. When I miss out, I’m like a junkie without his fix. I need my moment to be creative. And when I’m feeling creative, I do more than make art or write stories, I function better at socializing. My brain’s gears are working best and in full throttle. I’m that smiling guy who greets you with a friendly hello because I got a night of good sleep bookended with hypnagogia.

Maybe someday big pharma will sell it over the counter. For now, I’ll take it when I can get it, and call myself lucky on the days—I mean nights—it happens.

The Hermit Blogger

May 13, 2017
Steve Campbell

Again, this communique is long overdue by the rules laid down by the so-called professional bloggers dominating the blogosphere. But I’ve been busy with important facets of my life to boot daily, weekly, or barely monthly to this blog to keep anyone abreast of my art and writing “escapades.”

The book project is going well, though not on schedule. But that’s okay. I’m taking my time, developing the story, weaving and connecting the story and character threads and arcs, building the plots and their highs and lows, sanding the rough edges, and keeping my eye on the ending.

To do this my way and to keep it mine, I have to be a hermit from other writers. I don’t watch TV or movies while the final draft is in progress. I don’t read other books but my own. I don’t reach for books on writing because I don’t want to know anyone else’s rules on writing when I have those moments when I’m stuck. I need to work out the problems on my own. This is my project. I need to be selfish because it’s no one else’s name on the book when it’s done but mine.

It also means not visiting writers’ blogs, which sometimes results in missing great writing from someone who worked hard to communicate something important to other writers. But that’s how it goes. I don’t cut into my writing time by liking and following the latest good stuff. In fact, I restrict my time online to 30 minutes a day—sometimes less. That means my blog is ignored too often, and even my emails go unread for weeks.

But when the book is done…

I don’t place too big an emphasis on publishing, not like some writers I know. This year’s project will be an ebook and paperback product at Amazon. Later, it will go to other outlets. Meanwhile, I’ll catch up on some of the blogs I’ve missed and a few books I want to read. And start jotting ideas for my next project.

“What have you been up to?”

April 21, 2017
Steve Campbell

An apology for being away from my blog. I said in my last post that I’m busy writing a combination of stories into one. I am still at work on it.

I wish to clarify that the story-in-progress is based on an old manuscript that I tore apart years ago and turned sections into short stories. Part of me wanted to finish the ms, and over the years that feeling has never left me. So, here I am, piecing the story together.

The photo below is the actual typewritten ms taken from its two 3-ring binders. And some people think Stephen King is long-winded. Ha ha ha!

I don’t wish to pigeonhole myself as a writer of young adult and children’s books, but the story will feature Vree Erickson as a 13-year-old—her original age when I began the original ms. The story is told from her friend Lenny’s point of view and is part autobiography from when I was a teenager. Of course, there are supernatural elements to turn it into a fun fantasy read for lovers of that genre.

A big apology for taking my books off Amazon. My plan is to start over with the book mentioned above, which will kickoff the beginning of this venture. Before publication of said book, I plan on changing my author name from the elaborate Steven L. Campbell to the simplified Steve Campbell. Most people know me by the latter, which will make it easy for them to find my books and me. That’s the plan and I hope Amazon allows it to happen. Meanwhile, you can still find my books at Smashwords.

Another change in the works is the title of my blog. Right now it’s called Art, Writing, and The Ridgewood Files. I plan to shorten this to Art & Writing unless something better strikes my fancy.

That’s all for now. Thanks for dropping by.

Moving Along Nicely

February 4, 2017
Steve Campbell

Four days into February and the year’s writing project is moving along nicely. Grafting two major stories into a novel takes the finesse akin to a surgeon’s delicate hand: a wrong move can put the story into cardiac arrest, so I’m operating carefully. I want the final project to be a work of art. That’s what artists do.

Until now, my writing has been the ethereal musings of a wannabe author. I say ethereal because all my “published” stories have appeared on the Internet, existing like fog: changing and/or disappearing when I think of new storylines. But this year’s project is going to finish as a physical book. A physical book is the real deal: the good and the blemishes of an author’s story in a package that can’t be changed once printed. That’s why I’m operating on this project with delicate hands, removing most, if not all, the story’s blemishes. Aside from a mass book burning, the published product will be around—hopefully—long after this body is gone. Perhaps it will sit on a grandchild’s bookshelf, its pages dog-eared from many reads, a gift from his or her grandfather who spent many years telling anyone who would listen, fun and adventurous stories.

Rock Sketches In Acrylic

February 1, 2017
Steve Campbell

It was time to be a visual artist again, so I spent a couple days getting my artist’s eye back in shape by working on some sketches. I decided to look at rocks and study their shapes and colors. I’ve chosen 3 better ones to share.

They’re all acrylic paintings on scraps of canvas prepared with gesso and glued to cardboard—something I started doing years ago when I painted field studies of wildlife. They’re cheap and easy to put together and lighter than canvas boards.

I love earth colors. But they can be a bit dark, so I punched them up a bit. One facet of art is the exaggeration an artist puts into their artwork. I had fun with color and tried to be as painterly as possible too.

When I’m a bit rusty with my craft, I tend to draw with my brushes instead of painting with them. Squinting blurs the image and keeps me from seeing edges. Then I load my brushes and lay down paint and color, mixing values on the canvas. That way the objects look like they haven’t been cut and pasted to the canvas.

I exaggerated the colors, which was a lot of fun to do. No masterpieces here. But, oh well. I needed a break from writing and this was the perfect escape.

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Continuing My New Year Plan

January 19, 2017
Steve Campbell

As I promised in my last blog post, I am keeping you—my followers and fans of my Ridgewood stories—posted with my progress of reestablishing order and content of my books at Amazon.com’s KDP and to publish a physical paperback this year.

Sometime in February I will take my books off market at Amazon.com. Later (probably March or April) I will do the same at Smashwords.com. Then, when this project is completed, it will be available at both sites, starting with Amazon.com. The book will feature a combination of Night of the Hellhounds, Margga’s Curse, Kismet, and a few other stories, and will feature teenager Vree Erickson and other characters I’m close to. I don’t plan on the book being a Young Adult read, but that’s something I cannot control at Amazon.com. All books featuring teenage lead characters end up on Amazon’s YA list. That chases away many of my adult readers. My book will be a contemporary fantasy fiction one and should be listed as such.

Another change I’ll feature with the new book will be my publishing name. One I’m considering is Campbell Stevens. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m not purging my old stuff from the internet. This blog’s archives is a great place to find my old stories. But for easy access to the ones that are the foundation of this year’s project, here are links to the books inside the original book, which I titled earlier as The Green Crystal Stories.

Book 1, Night Of The Hellhounds

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3

Book 2, Trespassing

Chapter 4, Chapter 5

Book 3, III

Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8

Book 4, Kismet

Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12
Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16

Book 5, Cracks In Time

Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19

These stories are the bones—old bones, you could call them—of the start of this new era. I hope you’ll join me for the ride. I plan on making it a fun one.

New Year Goal: A Plan For Action

January 9, 2017
Steve Campbell

plan

I’m an artist, but I don’t do much art anymore except create covers for my books. I’m a writer, but I don’t write as often as I want to. So I’m mostly a reader when I’m not working my “9 to 5” job, studying the craft of writing in the books I read, and dreaming of writing the stories in my head and turning them into books for others to read.

For many years I’ve considered creating a series of books called The Ridgewood Chronicles. I did a test run of that idea in 2013 at Amazon.com when I published several short ebooks that became known as The Green Crystal Stories. The first book did well and prompted me to turn it into an experimental novel called Margga’s Curse. It didn’t become as popular as I’d hoped it would, so now it’s on my list of short-lived books—one that I’ll “unpublish” sometime this year. But parts of it will stay alive if I ever write my Ridgewood Chronicles series.

And that’s what was on my mind December 31, 2016 when midnight drew closer and I considered plans for the new year. The first thing I did was make a daily planner on my laptop and start chipping away at the idea that seemed to be buried inside a mountain of marble—marble that also has doubts and fears in it, mixed with hopes and dreams.

From my planner, the journey began. Here are my notes, which may not make complete sense to you unless you’re familiar with publishing ebooks at Amazon.com.

  • Sun 1—One of my resolutions is to concentrate on reestablishing order and content of my books at Amazon KDP; another is to publish physical paperback this year.
  • Mon 2—Two stories I’m considering reestablishing are Kismet and Night of the Hellhounds/Margga’s Curse. Undecided about POV with latter, though I’m favoring strict first person now.
  • Tue 3—Read Kismet again today. May need to add second part I started but never developed—part where Catherine is aware of two alternate dimensions. Will involve months of work if I decide to do it.
  • Wed 4—Second part (Act 2?) and climax and dénouement (Act 3?) of Kismet will need helper character—perhaps male character (magic abilities?) to add conflict between marriage.
  • Thu 5—Male helper/conflict character could be tie-in with Night/Curse—perhaps Grandma Evelyn’s son Balen Renfrew.
  • Fri 6—Kismet is obviously first story of series (Ridgewood Chronicles?) but fourth book on KDP list by date published. Should I unpublish all books and rearrange them in their stories’ chronological order? If so, should I scrap their current titles and begin anew with different ASINs? How much confusion will that cause to readers who own my books now? Past confusion was caused by Goodreads’ librarians when I changed titles—they’re too righteous and didn’t work well with me. Though they’re affiliated with Amazon, I see no reason to use Goodreads as an avenue for my books.
  • Sat 7—Must decide about Kismet and Night of the Hellhounds/Margga’s Curse and my KDP list so I can post news at my blog.
  • Sun 8—Still undecided. Irritating how quickly work fatigue derails my concentration. Need to decide and blog plans tomorrow. Also consider new titles for changes.

And here I am, the journey underway. I plan to keep you posted with my progress as often as possible. And hopefully we’ll see The Ridgewood Chronicles a reality by December 31 of this year.

Down Time

December 18, 2016
Steve Campbell

sorry-closed

closed-holidays

christmas-newyear

See You Next Year!

Vree’s Journal Entry 5

December 16, 2016
Steve Campbell

Lightning struck Grandma Lybrook when she was 4 years old while she fished with her father at the backside of Alice Lake; the strike left her with low-grade psychic ability, which she kept hidden and secret from us until I saw it psychically. Her psychic ability allows her to see ghosts and other creatures invisible to everyone but me.

Earlier I revealed that she lived a secret life. She has a son—Balen Renfrew—from a relationship with Trevor Renfrew, a young wizard she met while at college. She befriended Trevor while attending college at New Cambridge University. Trevor saw potential of developing her magic to greatness, but she feared possessing a power her father called Satanic. (Grandma had a strict religious upbringing that kept her from talking to her parents about her abilities. This made her seem shy and awkward around them and others who poked fun at her. Trevor made her feel better about herself and helped her develop confidence while at college.)

Grandma lived off campus with Trevor at their apartment above an occult bookstore that he owned. Though Trevor supported her financially, Grandma worked as a cook and meal server at a nearby Pizza Hut after classes. During her third year, she dropped out of school when she became pregnant. She gave her son Balen the last name Renfrew, though she and Trevor never married.

Her parents refused to support her financially and emotionally, so Trevor paid off her student loan and helped raise their child for 3 years. Grandma returned working as a part-time cook and meal server at some of the local bars and clubs.

One day when Balen levitated a lamp and broke it, he struck back with magic that almost killed Grandma when she scolded him. She left the child with his father and sat at the local bus station deciding where to go. That’s when she met Jack Lybrook, a business classmate from college who had majored in agriculture and owned a small dairy farm on Myers Ridge in Ridgewood. His car was in the shop, so he had taken the bus to visit his parents in New Cambridge. He invited her to a cup of coffee and lunch at his parents’ place. She accepted.

Later, with nowhere to go because of the friction between her and her parents, Grandma told Jack her predicament of being homeless, though she omitted having a son and psychic abilities. Jack took her in and she worked at his farm. He convinced her to return to college. They married after she graduated with a degree in business, whereupon she ran the business end of the farm. She and her parents reconciled their relationship and she never saw Balen and his father again.

Psychics and Luminaries

The white crow Enit Huw (pronounced ee’-nit ho’-ew) calls me a Luminary, a term I prefer over psychic.

Enit Huw, is a mysterious white crow with black eyes and beak. His magic is limited to transporting himself through space to locations in and around Ridgewood, and seeing beyond the third dimension. Lenny’s paternal grandmother told him that Enit Huw is the soul of time—past, present, and future, and brings hope for healing and new beginnings in life. He appeared twice to Lenny’s grandmother; his third appearance was the sign of Margga’s end—at my hand.

He visits me rarely, which is good since his visits so far have been to warn me of danger. Unfortunately, though, he is often sketchy on his information about whom or what the danger is.

The book of magic that Margga stole from the Council mentions the word Luminary and uses it to describe powerful sorcerers and magicians whose bodies produce light. My body glows white when I’m excited or nervous. It’s hard to hide such a condition from others, especially when I’m with Lenny and he happens to touch me.

Talks with Grandma have revealed that my powers came from ancestors on my maternal family tree, which were unlocked when lightning struck me. I am recording her information here for future reference.

My Maternal Family Tree, at a glance

Joseph and Hendrika Groot
(My maternal great-great-great-great-great-grandparents)
begat 2 children

Daughter Mina Groot
(My great-great-great-great-grandmother)
married to Baltisar Andersson
begat 7 children

Daughter Ruth Andersson
(My great-great-great-grandmother)
married to Jonathan Kaufmann
begat 2 children (sons)

Youngest son Joseph Kaufmann
(My great-great-grandfather)
married Helen Baker
begat 5 children (daughters)

Daughter Adali Kaufmann
(My great-grandmother)
married to James Doyle
begat 4 children

Evelyn Doyle
(My grandmother)

lived with Trevor Renfrew
begat 1 child: son, Balen Renfrew

married to Jonathan “Jack” Lybrook
begat 1 child: daughter, Karrie

Karrie Lybrook
(My mother)
married to Charles Erickson
begat 3 children

My Family Line of Psychics

(Relations with known psychic/magic abilities are listed in bold.)

  • Josef and Hendrika Groot had 2 children: Rutger Groot and Mina Groot;
  • Mina Groot, whom at 13 married Baltasar Andersson, 16, (139 years ago), had 7 children, of which daughter
  • Ruth Andersson, whom at 17 married Jonathan Kaufmann (112 years ago), had 2 sons, of which son
  • Joseph Kaufmann, whom at 23 married Helen Baker (87 years ago), had 5 daughters, of which daughter
  • Adali Kaufmann, whom at 19 married James Doyle (68 years ago), had 4 children, of which daughter
  • Evelyn Doyle, struck by lightning, whom at 19 had 1 son with wizard Trevor Renfrew (45 years ago), of which son
  • Balen Renfrew is half-mortal, half-wizard and has limited magic;
  • Evelyn Doyle, whom at 27 married Jonathan Lybrook (37 years ago), had 1 child, of which daughter
  • Karrie Lybrook, whom at 21 married Charles Erickson (16 years ago), had 3 children, of which daughter
  • Verawenda Erickson, (me), struck by lightning at 13, has psychic/magic ability.

Timeline, Josef Groot to Me

  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Josef Groot, b. 173 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Mina Andersson née Groot, b. 152 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Ruth Kaufmann née Andersson, b. 129 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Great-Grandfather Joseph Kaufmann, b. 110 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Grandmother Adali Doyle née Kaufmann, b. 87 years ago, alive, lives at Alice Lake’s Lakeview Living Center;
  • Grandmother Evelyn Lybrook née Doyle, b. 64 years ago, alive, lives at weird farmhouse on Myers Ridge;
  • Mother Karrie Erickson née Lybrook, b. 37 years ago, alive, lives with Grandma on Myers Ridge;
  • Me, Vree Erickson, b. 13 years ago, still alive, I live with Mom at Grandma’s weird farmhouse on Myers Ridge.

Brief Family History

Mina Groot Andersson and her husband Baltasar had seven children. They lived in Ridgewood and were influential members of the community before Baltasar killed a man and went to prison. After their youngest child was old enough, Mina left home for a nunnery. She stayed there until her death. Mina had telepathic powers. She prophesized her husband’s act of murder, along with other prophesies, including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic. Her daughter Ruth could also see future events. Ruth’s son Walter was a vaudeville magician who could move objects with his mind. His brother Joseph claimed to see and speak to spirits. Psychic abilities in my family stopped with Walter and Joseph until lightning triggered them in Grandma Evelyn. But she suppressed them and let them die. Then lightning struck me and triggered them in me.

Journal Entry 6

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Vree’s Journal Entry 4

December 11, 2016
Steve Campbell

Leonard “Lenny” Stevens is my best friend Zoey’s big brother. He’s a handsome boy, with dreamy dark brown (chocolate) eyes and thick, burnt sienna hair. He stands around 5’ 7” tall and weighs 125-130 pounds. He is older—15, born July 5, a day that he and his family know also as “Margga’s Curse” because of a witch’s spirit that killed his great-grandparents on that day a long time ago.

Lenny

Lenny works helping my maternal grandfather Jack Lybrook do yard work and odd jobs at my house. The house used to belong to a bad—as in evil with a capital E—witch named Margga (marj-guh’) Dekownik, who inherited it from her father, Ludwik Dekownik.

About Margga Dekownik

According to Lenny, his paternal great-grandfather, Reginald Myers, and Ludwick were neighbors on Myers Ridge and best friends. They hunted together until Reginald accidentally shot and killed Ludwick on July 5 while hunting in the woods behind the 2 houses. Ludwick’s only daughter Margga Dekownik was a self-proclaimed witch who swore vengeance for her father’s death. She conjured magic that killed Reginald and his wife Kate and spellbound their ghosts to Myers Ridge. I met both ghosts after my release from the hospital.

The Fifth Council House of Magic sentenced Margga to a 1,000-year incarceration, but she escaped, stole a valuable spell book from the Council, and used a powerful spell from its pages to create a plague that drained 90% of magic from all creatures within a thousand-mile radius of Myers Ridge—including members of the Council. A protection spell she put on herself saved her from the plague. The Council called on other councils and obtained enough magic to capture her. They stripped her of her protection spell and added to her incarceration, but were unable to lift the spell on Lenny’s great-grandparents. She was killed during another escape attempt. The powers of spirit law bound her spirit to serve imprisonment in Yalendora (a deep, underground abyss reserved for evildoers, similar to the underworld Hades in Greek mythology) for 2,000 years.

Meanwhile, Reginald and Kate Myers’s daughter sold the house and moved from Myers Ridge. The Council left too and never recovered the spell book Margga hid inside her father’s house. I found the book after my release from the hospital and was able to read some of the spells. One of the spells released Margga’s spirit from her imprisonment.

The dusty black spell book is actually an old, oversized log book that has no title on its hard leather cover. Its pages are askew and filled with numbers and strange figures, like secret code, which are predictions written as poems, spells written as songs, and some strange recipes that I’m sure no one would want to eat. I’m the only one who can read the book, when it reveals itself to me. When it doesn’t, the pages are riddled with numbers and strange figures. Having the book has been a blessing and a curse.

Speaking of curses, Margga revived hers and tried to kill Lenny and Zoey but I stopped her. She attacked me and tried to kill me for my psychic abilities. I had no choice but to defend myself and strike back. I destroyed her spirit and saved Lenny and his family from suffering her curse any longer.

Some of My Psychic Powers

Lightning struck me and, IMHO, unlocked strong psychic abilities in me. I believe everyone has degrees of psychic powers in them, but some people are more “gifted” (or cursed) than others, the same way some of us are naturally inclined towards music or mathematics, for example. The lightning changed me and made me aware of these abilities in me.

  • When Daddy came to me during my coma, he told me I was in a coma. I believe my “astral body” separated itself from my physical body, allowing me to travel out-of-body to meet with his spirit in the astral plane. This is called Astral or Mental Projection.
  • Though Precognition or Premonition is described as perceiving events in flashes of detailed insight before they happen, I hear buzzing sounds before strange events happen.
  • Retrocognition or Post-Cognition is the ability to see past events. I can do this only when I touch people. It isn’t something I do purposely … it just happens.

Psychic abilities are also known as extrasensory perception (ESP) and sixth sense. There are many kinds and I am slowly discovering and developing new ones.

But when I fought Marrga Dekownik’s spirit, I knew little about psychic phenomena, so I questioned my sanity a lot during that time.

I See Ghosts and Spirits

Mediumship or Channeling is the ability to see and talk to ghosts and spirits. My first experience was when I was in a coma and saw and spoke to my father’s spirit. Some people who study psychic phenomena say this was a precognitive dream. I disagree. But it was no dream when I saw Daddy’s spirit again in my bedroom after I came home from the hospital; I was wide awake.

The difference between ghosts and spirits is who is stuck on Earth and who has crossed the astral plane. Ghosts are stuck here for whatever reason, and spirits have left our earthly plane and travel the spirit world. Some spirits return to Earth from time to time, but not often because it’s a difficult process.

Having ghosts and spirits pop in and out is something I cannot control. And I cannot beckon them to appear. I always thought channeling was done on purpose by psychics to earn money from customers who wished to speak to their dearly departed. This isn’t so … in my case anyway. It’s unnerving when they appear unannounced. And it creeps me out every time.

Journal Entry 5

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Vree’s Journal Entry 3

December 3, 2016
Steve Campbell

“I was nine years old, down on the backside of Alice Lake, fishing with my dad one summer day,” Grandma Lybrook said to me in my pink and purple attic bedroom. “I never knew what happened until after I awoke in his arms. He was crying, and he nearly broke me in half when he hugged me.” Grandma tightened her embrace around my shoulders. “I still remember my confusion and the pain after I was struck. The lightning had burned my back where it hit me. I was numb and couldn’t walk, so my dad carried me to his truck and drove me home. For several weeks, I had strange dreams and I thought I saw ghosts. I even saw strange-looking dogs prowling the grounds.”

“Were they big and black with red eyes and bull horns on their heads?”

Grandma loosened her embrace. “You too, huh? Well, they’re not real. They’re visions caused by your brain healing from the lightning. You’ll stop seeing them after a while, just like I stopped seeing them.”

“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve both seen them?” I asked.

“It’s all part of the healing process.” Grandma took my right hand in her left one.

That’s when she and my bed and the bedroom vanished

I tried to be my quietest when I closed the apartment’s front door, but the click of the latch seemed like a gunshot. I held my breath as I leaned my forehead against the door’s cool wood. Would Trevor awaken this very moment and find me gone? Or would Balen awaken in his crib and alert his father that I had abandoned them?

What sort of mother abandons their baby?

I held the doorknob in my grip and willed myself not to cry. Not now. There would be plenty of time to cry later. Now was a time to be levelheaded and leave before I changed my mind.

All my young adult life had been spent running away from my past, searching for the real me. Trevor had been certain living a life of magic would be best for me. But when Balen levitated the lamp last night, I knew I would never be comfortable with that kind of life.

I released the knob, crept down the stairs to the double glass doors of the vestibule, and entered the seven a.m. crawl of college students, professors, and campus workers along Maple Boulevard. I turned away from faces and automobiles that looked familiar and hurried to and out the black iron front gate of New Cambridge University. I buttoned my green wool coat to keep out the March wind blowing at me while I pressed on toward the bus station two blocks away. Once I made it to the bus station and had my ticket to Bakers View, I would call Sara and let her know I was on my way. Going home was out of the question. Would father ever forgive me for leaving our faith, falling in the traps of magic, becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock, and dropping out of the religion classes that he had paid for?

The Greyhound bus station was dimly lit but warm. My bus was scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Would Trevor know I was here?

I sat in the hard plastic seat near the loading doors, stared at the snack vending machine next to the cigarette machine, and wished I had brought some nickels and dimes with me. But I had put all my coins in Balen’s piggy bank last night, and the billfold in my purse contained only a few bills left from my last paycheck from O’Brien’s Bar.

A tall young man exited the phone booth next to the cigarette machine and dropped a white piece of folded paper. He seemed unaware of the paper on the dark tile floor. Was it important?

“You dropped something,” I said to him.

He looked at me with pleasant eyes that seemed as black as the long, wool duffel coat he wore. Unlike other men his age, his dark brown hair was short and he sported no sideburns or beard of any kind.

I pointed a forefinger at the paper. He held his gaze on me and his expression turned to curiosity and then to recognition.

“Evelyn Doyle. Hey, it’s me, Jack Lybrook.”

I flinched at the mention of my name. “Do I know you?”

“We went to Ridgewood High, though you were a grade behind me. And my parents and I used to go to your dad’s church for a while when you and I were kids. I was Jonathan … or Johnny back then.”

I nodded as recognition sunk in. Many boys had gone to my father’s Pentecostal church, but only Johnny Lybrook and few others had ever whispered to their friends how pretty I was.

“I go by Jack now,” he said. “You know, like JFK did.”

The clock above the loading doors told me that only five minutes had passed since my arrival. I looked again at the folded paper on the floor.

“You dropped that,” I said, pointing again.

“My notes. Thank you.” Jack fetched the paper and sat next to me. “Just got back from Ridgewood. I’m looking to buy some farm property there … maybe start a dairy farm.”

“Are you a student at New Cambridge?” I had never seen him there, but most of my time was spent with Trevor, and now Balen.

“I was,” Jack said. “Graduated last year … agriculture with a minor in business. I’m on my way to my parents’ place. My car’s in the garage.” He raised an eyebrow. “You?”

I looked around. Except for the man at the ticket window, it was just the two of us. I broke down and wept. I felt Jack’s arms around me. I welcomed his comfort and tried to hide inside his embrace. He hushed my sobs, wiped away my tears with a handkerchief, and held me until a man’s voice announced over the intercom that it was time to board the bus to Bakers View and points east of New Cambridge. Once aboard, I would forever leave behind the wizard and the thirteen-month-old son whose magic was stronger than mine and Trevor’s combined.

“That’s me,” I said, pointing at the loading doors.

Jack stood when I did. “You’re not a student?”

“I dropped out. I’m on my way to my sister’s. Her husband doesn’t like me much.”

I don’t know why I told him that.

“Wait,” he said. “Join me for a cup of coffee.”

I shook my head.

“Cash in your ticket,” he said, “have coffee with me, and I’ll drive you anywhere you need to go.”

“But you said your car’s in the garage.”

He checked his wristwatch. “For another hour. Come on. It’ll save you some cash and give us a chance to catch up on old times.”

There was honesty and safety with this man’s kindness. I took his hand and let him lead me to the ticket window. Then, with the refunded money in my purse, I went with him for coffee, vowing to myself to never involve myself with magic again.

“Vree?” Grandma released my hand. “Are you okay?” She waved her other hand in front of my eyes as the remnants of the vision faded. “I seemed to have lost your attention for a moment.” Her face bore a concerned look.

“Tired,” I said.

She left to finish cooking supper.

The vision left me startled and anxious. My grandmother had another child—a son named Balen.

Journal Entry 4

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My Verawenda Blog

December 2, 2016
Steve Campbell

Vree

A little more than 2 years ago I created a blog for one of my fictional characters, Verawenda Erickson. I wrote an About page and 2 blogs, then got busy with other things in my life and never added anything more. I put it in storage and left it untouched until today when I gave it a facelift and published it again. You can see it at https://verawenda.wordpress.com/. Should my plans of writing more stories featuring Vree work out, I’ll post there every Friday.

***UPDATE***

As of August 2017, I discontinued the Verawenda blog and moved its posts to this blog. You can find those posts under the Writing tab, in the heading titled Vree’s Journal.
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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 10

November 24, 2016
Steve Campbell

“Vree?” Grandma released my hand. “Are you okay?” She waved her other hand in front of my eyes as the remnants of the vision faded. “I seemed to have lost your attention for a moment.” Her face bore a concerned look.

“Tired,” I said, blinking and taking in the room that was my new bedroom.

“I need to finish supper and you should shower now,” Grandma said to me, standing. “We’ll eat as soon as everyone gets back.”

“Did everyone else go to the ER?” I asked, “Lenny, too?”

“No. He and Amy are in the kitchen. And I need to get back down there and make sure they haven’t burned anything. You, however, relax … take a nap after your shower. I’ll call you when it’s time to eat.”

Grandma picked up a gallon-size yellow plastic bucket that sat on my desk. She had cleaned up my vomit, probably when I’d been bawling into my pillow. Her shoes were soft against the stairs as she left me alone with my thoughts.

Bits of the vision still played in my mind. Had I glimpsed at a small piece of Grandpa and Grandma’s past? And what were all those references to magic and a child?

I needed to keep people from touching me.

A knock at the door interrupted my thoughts.

Lenny again.

I wiped my mouth with the backs of my hands in case any vomit lingered there, then told him to come up.

“I wanna give you something,” he said when he reached the top of the stairs. He faced me from the far side of the three-sided safety banister. “I was gonna do it earlier, but your grandmother…” He shrugged. “Well, you know.” He went to where his treasure lay buried and practically dived to the floor.

I stayed on my bed and watched him on the other side of the wooden banister. “What is it? You already gave me that weird book.”

“Things are gonna get weirder before this day is over.”

Weirder?

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Lenny took a small, brown paper sack from inside the floor and emptied its contents in his left hand. Then he returned the sack and floorboard, came to me, and dangled a necklace in front of my face. An arrowhead carved from gray flint hung from a delicate gold chain.

“It’s real,” he said, unclasping the chain. “I got it when I visited a Seneca Indian reservation in New York. Turn around so I can put it on you.”

“Why?”

“Arrowheads are powerful forces against witches,” he said. “It won’t protect me because I’ve been cursed. But it will protect you … just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“Margga likes hurting the people we…”

“Love?”

“Yes.”

My heart quickened. Lenny did not show any embarrassment about his admission. I turned away from him and he fastened the necklace around my neck after he brushed my hair out of the way.

“Just keep that arrowhead on you at all times today … especially tonight,” he said, going to the stairs.

“What happens tonight?” I hurried from my bed and practically pinned him against the banister. “What kind of danger are we in, Lenny? You need to tell me.”

“I don’t have time. My dad’s picking me up in a few minutes.”

“You’re leaving?”

“I have to. It’s almost six o’clock. She’ll kill me if I’m anywhere near Myers Ridge.” Lenny took my shoulders and gently pushed me away from him. White light glowed between us when he did.

It vanished when he released me.

He looked at his hands, stunned.

“Did you see that?” he asked.

I had, but one of my DVD cases fell over on my desk and interrupted my reply. At first, I saw nothing amidst the boxes and movies there. Then, a white crow materialized and perched on one of the brown cardboard boxes on my desk. I yelped, surprised and worried as its eyes glowed as red as burning ember.

“You’re him,” Lenny said.

I stepped away from my desk and pointed an accusing finger at the crow. “You can see that?” I asked Lenny.

“Enit Huw.” He drew closer to my desk. “Gam Gam told me about you,” he said, addressing the crow and growing more excited. “You’re the soul of time—past, present, and future. You appeared twice to Gam Gam. This is your third appearance. Now you bring hope for healing and new beginnings in life. You’re the sign of Margga’s end.”

“Someone has released the book of enchantment and opened it,” the crow said in a raspy voice. It cocked its head at me. “You! You have begun freeing the dancers of truth. You must continue so that you may know their poetry.”

Free the dancers of truth so that you may know their poetry. “That was in the book,” I said to Lenny.

“The sentries are watching you,” the crow said, its head still cocked at me. “They smell and taste your energy. They will report their findings and she will try to destroy you.”

“Are you talking about Margga?” I asked. “Margga and me?”

The crow cocked its head at Lenny and said, “The girl’s energy is unharnessed, chaotic, and exciting the witch’s spirit even now in the depths of Yalendora. The spirit feeds off chaos and will grow stronger when she returns. The girl must harness her energy or the spirit will consume it and turn this place to darkness again. If this comes to pass, her curse will include many, if not the whole world.”

“What can we do?” Lenny asked.

The crow turned an eye at me. “Harness your energy and free the dancers of truth.”

“Dancers?” I recalled how the numbers and symbols in the book had moved—danced—when they changed into words. “You want me to read that book of poetry Lenny gave me?”

Lenny lifted the weird black book from my desk. “This book?”

“Yes, the book of enchantment. The girl and the book are one. She must unlock the spell that will save us all.” The crow cocked its head at me. “You have been warned, Verawenda Erickson. Take heed. You must choose whether to live or die.”

Wait! “Choose whether to live or die? What does that mean?”

“I shall return soon for your answer.”

I started to protest more but the crow vanished.

Lenny sucked in a breath and picked up a long tail feather from atop the box. “A feather from Enit Huw.” His eyes were wide with amazement.

“What did it mean I must choose whether to live or die?” I asked.

Lenny went to my bed and sat, holding the book and feather on his lap.

“What did it mean I must choose whether to live or die?” I asked again.

“What?” He looked up at me. His eyes glistened. The amazement had left his face, replaced by one I knew well every time I looked in a mirror. “They could’ve lived. My Gumpa, Mom, Gam Gam. It’s all my fault. The enchantment Gam Gam looked for to end Margga’s curse was this book. And I had it all along.”

A car horn outside my window stopped me from asking any more questions.

Lenny stood and placed the book and feather on my bed. “This changes everything. I have to tell my family about it. In the meantime, read the book, Vree. I’ll be back before sundown.” He hurried past me, then stopped and came to me and planted a kiss on my forehead. “This is wonderful,” he said before he turned and hurried downstairs.

Wonderful? How?

I stood at the top of the stairs for several minutes before I resigned trying to make sense of what had happened.

A shower would relax me, so I went downstairs to the large bathroom next to Dave’s bedroom. The light switch revealed a roomy place painted gold, which added to the bright illumination from a makeup mirror above a black porcelain sink to the left of the door. I found an unpacked box of our toiletries on the sink’s black porcelain counter. Mom’s creams, lotions, powders, makeup, and bath oils and salts were inside, along with Amy’s and my less expensive ones. My purple T-shirt pajamas of Snoopy was there, too, which had somehow survived the fire and smelled of Mom’s sunflower and sunshine laundry detergent … and Daddy’s cologne. I found his bottle of Polo Black at the bottom of the box and held it close to my nose, remembering him before the lightning killed him and changed me.

Out of my shoes and socks, my feet welcomed the cool relief of the cream tiled floor. I locked the door and crossed the room to a black bathtub with two sliding frosted glass doors. I turned on the water via the two ivory handles and adjusted the temperature to my liking. There, I stripped, found shampoo and two fluffy towels next to the tub, stepped inside, closed the sliding doors, and plunged my head beneath the shower’s pulsating stream of warm water. When I stood up straight, something cold touched between my breasts and caused me to yelp.

Lenny’s arrowhead necklace—I still wore it.

I thought about removing it, then changed my mind and let as many memories and thoughts fade from the foreground of my mind. Coconut scented shampoo and soap that smelled like cocoa butter washed away sweat and left me feeling cleaner than I had since waking from my coma.

The arrowhead thumped cold against my chest again. I took a closer look at it. It didn’t look special, other than it was obviously handmade. I considered again removing it as I slid open the shower door and stepped from the tub. When I reached for a towel, they were gone. So were my clothes. White cabinets had replaced the dark oak ones above the toilet that had been black, and green linoleum with white and yellow daisies covered the floor.

Daddy opened the door and stuck his head inside.

“How bad is the cut?” he asked me. “Have you stopped the bleeding?”

I stumbled backwards and put my arms around myself to hide my nakedness. Only, I wasn’t naked. I wore a dry white T-shirt and a pair of blue jeans. Green tennis shoes with yellow shoestrings covered my feet. They and my clothes were covered with splatters of light blue paint. So were my arms.

“You’re gonna get infected if you don’t clean that wound,” Daddy said as he entered. He wore a white dress shirt open at the collar and black slacks held up with thin, black suspenders. I stumbled when he took me by an arm and led me to an ordinary-looking white sink and counter where pieces of broken glass littered the water-stained basin.

“Open your hand and let me have a look,” he said. He held my right hand, pulled open my fingers, took away a piece of glass, and dropped it in the basin. Blood dripped from where the glass had sliced my palm and fingers. I felt no pain.

I looked up at the mirror. I had no reflection and it startled me.

“What’s happening?” I asked. “You said you were leaving. Where are we?”

“Come,” he said.

“Where to?”

“I’ll fix you up.” He led me to the bathtub as plain as the sink. We knelt together and he ran warm water over the cut. I felt sickened as I watched my blood swirl down the drain. I pulled away.

“Relax,” Daddy said, taking my injured hand again.

“What happened to me?” I asked. “Why am I bleeding?”

He made hushing sounds and said, “Stop talking nonsense, Becca. I’m trying to look at your cut.”

I looked across the room and saw that I had a reflection now. The short-haired, brown-haired woman in the mirror had a round, pleasant face. She looked at me with dark but kind-looking eyes.

I turned my head slowly from side to side. So did the woman in the mirror, matching every move. Then she looked away while my gaze remained fixed on her image in the mirror.

“I was trying to hurry before the first storm,” she said. “You know how much I hate lightning … and being in this house, so close to the property next door.”

“The weatherman says sixty percent chance of clear skies tonight,” Daddy said, though his voice’s pitch seemed to change before he finished the sentence.

“We never have clear skies on Myers Ridge during Margga’s curse,” the woman said. “Let’s take the kids out of town tonight. We can stay at my parents’ camp overnight.”

Daddy’s grip tightened around my hand beneath the tub’s faucet. A man’s voice I didn’t recognize came from him.

“I’ll try to convince my mom to come along,” he said. “But you know she won’t wanna go. And I won’t leave her by herself.”

“Then I’ll take the kids and leave you two here.”

“Or you could stay and help us find the enchantment.”

“Please, Howard … we don’t know what the enchantment is.”

“The crow told Mom that we’d know it when we found it. I won’t give up helping her look. She says the special one is almost here … that she could come tonight. If so, and without the enchantment, Margga’s curse will continue.”

This time, the woman said nothing.

I looked away from the mirror and tried to pull my hand away, but the man’s grip held fast.

“You’re not my daddy,” I said to the man who looked like my father, “so I’m gonna leave now.”

His grip continued to hold tight, so I pushed him hard and yanked my hand from his. As he fell inside the tub, I pushed away and ran.

Outside the bathroom, I hurried down the hall, found the stairs, and flew down them, my feet barely touching the steps.

Downstairs, my feet found a solid floor of unfamiliar carpet. I tore through the living room filled with furniture that must have belonged to the people in the framed photographs I passed. I saw the woman in two of the photos—large studio shots done professionally. She stood next to an unknown man behind three girls and a boy in the last one. The boy looked like Lenny, but several years younger.

I called for my mom and grandparents as I ran through the dining room, to the kitchen that looked unchanged from Grandma Evelyn’s. No one was there.

I fled to the backdoor and entered a white blank sea of nothingness. I stood on the nothingness and saw nothing. I turned around and saw the house was gone.

Something cold touched the center of my chest. I almost screamed until Grandma and Grandpa’s bathroom appeared around me. I stood outside the shower. My reflection in the mirror showed my true self: frightened, naked and cold.

Had I had another vision? If so, it’d been a lot weirder than the others.

Water from the showerhead struck the bathtub behind me. I turned off the shower, wrapped my body in a fluffy towel from the rack, wrapped my wet hair in the other towel, and hurried to the locked door. The fancy sink next to me held no broken glass, which sent a shiver across my back before I unlocked the door and headed to my bedroom.

*.*.*

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 9

November 10, 2016
Steve Campbell

The woman’s scream in my head diminished. The sickness in my stomach did not.

“I need to lie down,” I said, bolting from the porch swing and charging into the house.

The soles of my tennis shoes pounded against the steps as I hurried up the two flights of stairs to my bedroom.

I would have screamed when I entered the room had I not been out of breath.

My father stood next to my empty easel. A white glow surrounded him. Only his face was definite; it smiled out at me.

How could this be? He was dead.

“You’re a ghost,” I said.

“You haven’t painted anything new since your coma,” he said.

I swiped at hot tears blurring his image. I wasn’t ready for any more strangeness. “NonononononoNO.” I staggered to the edge of my bed and sat.

Daddy reappeared at my bedside, looking down at me. His head nearly grazed the slanted ceiling. His Nordic DNA had made him very tall.

“Are you really a ghost?” I asked, trying to make sense of what I saw. “Or am I having another vision?”

“I’m spirit, Vree, honey, just like when we talked when you were comatose. Your mind has connected to the astral plane and the vibrations of my energy again. But this time you have not projected like you did in your coma. This time, you have called me.”

“Why?”

“You wanted to tell me goodbye.”

“You’re leaving?”

“I am. I have gone to the light and came back to say goodbye. But returning to this plane takes a lot of energy. I cannot stay.”

“Where are you going? Heaven?”

“If that is what you want to call it.” The light around him began to fade. “I have to go. But before I do, I want you to remember to stay with the light.”

“What light?”

“Your light. You’re psychic. You can see and hear and do things no one else can. And so much more.”

“I don’t wanna be psychic. I wanna be normal. I want things the way they used to before lightning changed everything.”

“When you’re feeling down and unsure about your path, see the light and let it come to you. The light will strengthen you when things are darkest.”

“Wait,” I cried out as Daddy’s spirit dulled and vanished.

“Come back,” I said, wishing I could have hugged him.

Large tears rolled down my cheeks and dripped on my hands clenched in my lap. I fell back on my bed, not wanting to face the weird and creepy world beyond my bedroom. Not ever.

Dave called from the bottom landing and told me to come downstairs to eat.

“I’m not hungry.” I stared at the ceiling. Daddy was gone. I never told him how sorry I was for causing his death. Was that why he’d left without saying he loved me?

“Hurry up,” Dave called, his voice closer. “We’re hungry.”

Pushing from the bed, I rose to all my height and shouted at the ceiling. “YOU NEVER SAID YOU LOVE ME.”

Without warning, my stomach buckled. I needed to vomit.

I charged the stairs and into my brother who had climbed the stairs and stood at the top step.

I halted but Dave lost his balance. He grabbed hold of the railing on his right to keep from tumbling down the steps. His momentum swung his body and slammed his right shoulder into the wall. There was loud cracking sound before he lost his grip and thudded to a stop halfway down the steps.

“Why can’t you watch where you’re going?” he cried out. He touched his shoulder and cried out more, using some offending words to describe me and my clumsiness.

I turned, fell to my hands and knees, and vomited on the floor.

Bile rose in my throat a second time but I held the sour liquid down.

My hair mingled in the vomit; its ends painted wet streaks across the wood when I moved my head.

Someone touched my back—my mother—and asked if I was okay.

I nodded and hid my face. I wished to be whisked through time and space to when my childhood had been happiest, to when Dave, Amy and I were happy together, to when Daddy gave us piggyback rides, read Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua books to us, tucked us in bed at night and told us how much he loved us.

“We’re taking your brother to the hospital for x-rays,” Mom said. “Clean up your mess and take a shower. Make sure you wash your hair. Okay?”

I nodded again.

“She pushed me,” Dave said at the bottom of the stairs.

“I’m sure it was an accident,” Grandpa said.

“I don’t know what happened to cause this,” Mom said to me in her I’m-angry-but-can’t-show-it-right-now voice, “but you can’t let your emotions control your actions.”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“You can tell me about it when we get back … after you shower, and after we eat and have time to relax from our long day.” Mom started down the stairs. She stopped and turned around. “I know it’s been a big change for all of us, but you need to accept the fact that although change is scary, it’s important to adapt to it.”

“I know,” I said. “But sometimes I need a hug and … well, you’ve been so busy lately, and Dave and Amy treat me like I have cooties.”

“Cooties? Really, Vree, you’re not a little girl.”

“You know what I mean.”

“We’ll talk about this later.”

Mom descended the stairs. Somewhere downstairs, a door closed. Outside, three doors of a vehicle closed. The vehicle drove away and the house, inside and out, grew silent. I went to my bed and collapsed, bawling into my pillow until my sobs became dry heaves.

I sensed someone in the room, smelled Grandma Evelyn’s perfume before she sat on the bed, put an arm around my shoulders, and hugged me. Her affection quieted my sobs.

“If you need to talk,” she said, “you can come to me anytime, day or night.”

I sat up and leaned into her embrace. “You asked earlier if I’d had any visions,” I said between my sniffles. “Why is that?”

“Because lightning struck me too.”

Whoa! “Really? When?”

“I was nine years old, down on the backside of Alice Lake, fishing with my dad one summer day. I never knew what happened until after I awoke in his arms. He was crying, and he nearly broke me in half when he hugged me.” Grandma tightened her embrace around my shoulders. “I still remember my confusion and the pain after I was struck. The lightning had burned my back where it hit me. I was numb and couldn’t walk, so my dad carried me to his truck and drove me home. For several weeks, I had strange dreams and I thought I saw ghosts. I even saw strange-looking dogs prowling the grounds.”

“Were they big and black with red eyes and bull horns on their heads?”

Grandma loosened her embrace. “You too, huh? Well, they’re not real. They’re visions caused by your brain healing from the lightning. You’ll stop seeing them after a while, just like I stopped seeing them.”

“Don’t you find it odd that we’ve both seen them?” I asked.

“It’s all part of the healing process.” Grandma took my right hand in her left one.

That’s when she and my bed and the bedroom vanished

I tried to be my quietest when I closed the apartment’s front door, but the click of the latch seemed like a gunshot. I held my breath as I leaned my forehead against the door’s cool wood. Would Trevor awaken this very moment and find me gone? Or would Balen awaken in his crib and alert his father that I had abandoned them?

What sort of mother abandons their baby?

I held the doorknob in my grip and willed myself not to cry. Not now. There would be plenty of time to cry later. Now was a time to be levelheaded and leave before I changed my mind.

All my young adult life had been spent running away from my past, searching for the real me. Trevor had been certain living a life of magic would be best for me. But when Balen levitated the lamp last night, I knew I would never be comfortable with that kind of life.

I released the knob, crept down the stairs to the double glass doors of the vestibule, and entered the seven a.m. crawl of college students, professors, and campus workers along Maple Boulevard. I turned away from faces and automobiles that looked familiar and hurried to and out the black iron front gate of New Cambridge University. I buttoned my green wool coat to keep out the March wind blowing at me while I pressed on toward the bus station two blocks away. Once I made it to the bus station and had my ticket to Bakers View, I would call Sara and let her know I was on my way. Going home was out of the question. Would father ever forgive me for leaving our faith, falling in the traps of magic, becoming pregnant out-of-wedlock, and dropping out of the religion classes that he had paid for?

The Greyhound bus station was dimly lit but warm. My bus was scheduled to leave in fifteen minutes. Would Trevor know I was here?

I sat in the hard plastic seat near the loading doors, stared at the snack vending machine next to the cigarette machine, and wished I had brought some nickels and dimes with me. But I had put all my coins in Balen’s piggy bank last night, and the billfold in my purse contained only a few bills left from my last paycheck from O’Brien’s Bar.

A tall young man exited the phone booth next to the cigarette machine and dropped a white piece of folded paper. He seemed unaware of the paper on the dark tile floor. Was it important?

“You dropped something,” I said to him.

He looked at me with pleasant eyes that seemed as black as the long, wool duffel coat he wore. Unlike other men his age, his dark brown hair was short and he sported no sideburns or beard of any kind.

I pointed a forefinger at the paper. He held his gaze on me and his expression turned to curiosity and then to recognition.

“Evelyn Doyle. Hey, it’s me, Jack Lybrook.”

I flinched at the mention of my name. “Do I know you?”

“We went to Ridgewood High, though you were a grade behind me. And my parents and I used to go to your dad’s church for a while when you and I were kids. I was Jonathan … or Johnny back then.”

I nodded as recognition sunk in. Many boys had gone to my father’s Pentecostal church, but only Johnny Lybrook and few others had ever whispered to their friends how pretty I was.

“I go by Jack now,” he said. “You know, like JFK did.”

The clock above the loading doors told me that only five minutes had passed since my arrival. I looked again at the folded paper on the floor.

“You dropped that,” I said, pointing again.

“My notes. Thank you.” Jack fetched the paper and sat next to me. “Just got back from Ridgewood. I’m looking to buy some farm property there … maybe start a dairy farm.”

“Are you a student at New Cambridge?” I had never seen him there, but most of my time was spent with Trevor, and now Balen.

“I was,” Jack said. “Graduated last year … agriculture with a minor in business. I’m on my way to my parents’ place. My car’s in the garage.” He raised an eyebrow. “You?”

I looked around. Except for the man at the ticket window, it was just the two of us. I broke down and wept. I felt Jack’s arms around me. I welcomed his comfort and tried to hide inside his embrace. He hushed my sobs, wiped away my tears with a handkerchief, and held me until a man’s voice announced over the intercom that it was time to board the bus to Bakers View and points east of New Cambridge. Once aboard, I would forever leave behind the wizard and the thirteen-month-old son whose magic was stronger than mine and Trevor’s combined.

“That’s me,” I said, pointing at the loading doors.

Jack stood when I did. “You’re not a student?”

“I dropped out. On my way to my sister’s. Her husband doesn’t like me much.”

I don’t know why I told him that.

“Wait,” he said. “Join me for a cup of coffee.”

I shook my head.

“Cash in your ticket,” he said, “have coffee with me, and I’ll drive you anywhere you need to go.”

“Your car’s in the garage.”

He checked his wristwatch. “For another hour. Come on. It’ll save you some bread and give us a chance to catch up on old times.”

There was honesty and safety with this man’s kindness. I took his hand and let him lead me to the ticket window. Then, with the refunded cash in my purse, I went with him for coffee, vowing to myself to never involve myself with magic again.

*.*.*

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 8

November 8, 2016
Steve Campbell

The air tasted sweet and was warm as I sat on the front porch swing and rocked. Past a small rise in the road, a dark blue house across the road sat on a large hill almost two hundred yards up the road. It was a pretty house, more modern looking than the one I was at, surrounded by evergreen hedges by what I could see through the foliage between us.

Lenny entered the porch from the living room and stood at the front door. I ignored him, wishing to be alone with my thoughts.

He pointed at the house I looked at. “My dad and sisters and I live there,” he said. “My Gam Gam owned that house—this one too—until she died and willed them both to my dad.”

I sighed and halted the swing. “Why are you following me?” I asked.

“It wasn’t intentional. After I helped your grandfather, I kept getting in the way inside the kitchen, so I left. But I didn’t wanna be by myself.”

“So it was intentional.”

Lenny shrugged. “Is it okay if I sit with you?”

I scooted over. “I notice you never talk about your family,” I said.

As he sat to my right, the wistful look returned for a moment. He shrugged and said, “My dad’s the high school art teacher, my big sister lives at the lake, and my two little sisters are over there now, helping her run our mom’s restaurant.”

“Your mom owns a restaurant. How cool is that? Does she give you free food?”

“She’s dead.”

Crap!

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

“It’s okay. Everyone has something lousy in their lives to deal with. It’s just nice to have friends around when we do.” Lenny stood up and took a box of chewing gum from a back pocket.

I accepted one of the sticks of Juicy Fruit from him. It was the original flavor, not strawberry or cherry or bubble gum, which are my favorites.

He sat down closer to me, and we chewed in silence. I played with my gum’s wrapper until I couldn’t stand the silence.

“Sorry about my behavior out back, but…” How could I tell him what I’d seen and heard without coming across as a lunatic?

“I get it,” he said. “When you gotta go, you gotta go.”

“Go?” What was he talking about?

“To the bathroom.”

Oh. Yeah. “No. I saw something … been seeing something I can’t explain.”

“A big black dog with horns and red eyes?”

I shivered. “You too?” I wasn’t crazy. “What is it? How can it disappear like that?”

“Margga.”

There was that name again. I raised an eyebrow. “The dog’s name is Margga?”

Lenny leaned forward, put his forearms across his knees, and stared ahead. His muscular back and shoulders seemed to harden. “I hate her,” he said, his voice low and growling. He sat up straight and said, “You’re gonna find out about Margga’s curse sooner or later, so I may as well tell you a few things.”

Curse?

“It started at the property behind us, a long time ago when my great-grandparents mysteriously died.”

I turned to look at the property behind us, but changed my mind when Lenny began swinging the swing by pushing his feet off the porch floor.

“My great-grandfather, Reginald Myers, was a famous Broadway playwright and Hollywood screenwriter. He and his wife lived in a big Victorian house at the property next door, before my Gumpa and Gam Gam had it razed.” Lenny put an arm across the back of the swing, which placed me in a faux embrace with his arm behind me. I thought about moving closer to him but he took his arm away, stopped swinging the swing, and sat forward with his forearms across his knees and his gaze fixed ahead again. “Gam Gam claimed she destroyed the house because she found my great-grandfather and his two hunting dogs frozen inside the house on a sweltering July evening. She also said she found my great-grandmother dead at the bottom of the cliffs on Myers Ridge, at a place called Widow’s Ravine. A witch named Margga killed them.

“Since then, my great-grandfather’s ghost returns on this night. So do the ghosts of his two hunting dogs. But the creepy part is people have seen a third dog—sometimes a fourth and more—all of them black, with horns and red eyes. Gam Gam called them Margga’s hellhounds and told me to always stay away from them.”

Lenny turned and looked at me. His gaze was hard and serious. The air around me felt chilly.

“There’s more,” he said, lowering his voice to almost a whisper.

“More?” The air seemed to get colder. I shivered.

“Yes.” He leaned close and took my right hand in his. Dizziness and the sound of bees buzzing everywhere overwhelmed me. The world around me changed and—

I ran. I ran from the house where I had discovered my husband and his hunting dogs frozen inside the living room. I tried to block the image of how surprised his dead face looked, as though he had realized seconds before his death that he was dying.

I ran across the front lawn, toward Myers Road, stumbling where it connected to the blacktopped driveway, and falling when I entered the old country highway scarred with long grooves made by the metal wheels of Amish buggies. Blood from my nose dripped into one of the tracks and reflected the backlit clouds in a sky that had once been sunny and promising a pleasant night.

The witch’s curse was upon me.

I stood and ran again for my life.

Rolling gray clouds blocked the sunlight when I entered the angry field of brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed at me, scratched my face and forearms, tore away long, black strands of my hair, and slashed my brand new Rayon dress—the blue gray one with lace collar and ivory buttons. The tangled growth grabbed and stole my chunky non-strap pumps from my feet, causing me to fall. I hurried upright, glanced back only once at the house, and left my shoes as I continued to flee from the witch who lived next door.

I found the path that led to and past the rocky cliffs above Myers Creek. Once I made it beyond Lovers Leap and Widow’s Ravine, the hill would become less steep and lead me to Russell Road and the sheriff’s house. I prayed he would be home. There, I would call my daughter, Adrienne, at New Cambridge’s college campus to come get me and take me away from Ridgewood and Myers Ridge for good.

I was glad Reginald had taught Adrienne how to drive an automobile.

As I approached Lover’s Leap, I saw that it was still fenced in with bars of iron piping; there was little chance of falling. But someone had removed the pipes at the section overlooking Widow’s Ravine. The path came so dangerously close to the edge there. One little slip and I could tumble over the side and fall to the rocky creek below.

That’s when I felt the witch’s presence behind me, and felt the sudden push from right to left, as though a giant invisible hand had brushed me aside like an insect, veering me off course and sweeping me over the edge of Widow’s Ravine.

*.*.*

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 7

November 6, 2016
Steve Campbell

I stayed close to Lenny, who guided me across the backyard. Along the way, I stopped at a line of three large, bleached canvas camp tents in front of a square fire pit made of cement blocks.

“Some of the bedrooms aren’t done yet, so your grandfather thought everyone would enjoy sleeping outside,” Lenny explained next to me.

“A campout. Sweet,” I said, recalling times of camping with Daddy. “But I’ve never slept in a tent before. We always rented cabins.” Then, “Are you gonna spend the night with us?”

Lenny shrugged in the sunshine and looked wistful, as if something troubled him. “I can’t tonight,” he said, leading me from the tents. “It’s gonna rain. Plus, it’s my birthday … my dad has other plans.”

I wished him a happy birthday and asked, “How old?”

“Fifteen.”

“Me too.”

“I know. Your grandparents told me.”

“So, fifteen and tenth grade,” I said, fishing for more information about him.

“Yep.”

“Maybe we’ll have classes together.”

“Probably.”

“That’d be nice,” I almost said. I bit my lower lip to keep from showing my excitement of knowing that we’d be together at school.

“Here we are,” he said as we entered the ordinary looking field of wild grasses and flowers.

“Where are the blueberries?” I asked, looking around.

“We’re standing in them.”

I bent over. Short clumps of both ripe, plump, light-blue blueberries, and unripe, tiny green and white ones grew among the weeds at my feet. I had expected to see even rows of large, cultivated bushes with fat berries and no weeds anywhere, like at the berry picking farms in Pittsburgh.

“I’ll getcha started,” Lenny said.

Following his instructions, I knelt low to the ground and picked the bluest berries. Lenny headed right, so I went left, pushing weeds aside in search of the ripest berries for Grandma’s pies.

I had my bowl halfway filled when I heard a cat meowing nearby. An orange, mangy tabby ran to me when I looked up and rubbed its body back and forth against my knees, purring loudly. I hesitated to pet the cat. Pus oozed from its closed right eye, which the cat rubbed repeatedly against my pants.

The cat was definitely malnourished and sick, and its cries were steady and weak. Its body trembled.

“You poor thing,” I said, still hesitant to touch the animal. “Would you like me to get you some milk? My cat loved milk. His name was Perry Mason, but he died when lightning burned down our home.”

The cat had quit rubbing its sore eye and now looked at me with its healthy yellow-green one. It still trembled and meowed pitifully.

“I’m sorry you’re so sick. I wish there was something I could do to make you better.”

I turned to Lenny who stooped low and picked berries at the far edge of the patch, thirty yards away. I wanted to ask him if there was a vet on Myers Ridge, but the cat hissed and ran off, disappearing into the taller field grass at the edge of the woods.

I decided that if the cat returned, I would use the rest of my birthday money to get it to a veterinarian. Then I returned to picking berries until my bowl was full. When I stood, the sound of buzzing bees filled my head and made me dizzy. I dropped to my knees as nausea fell over me. The air rippled around me. Across the way, a black beast the size of a pony stood a few feet behind Lenny and watched him pick berries.

My weakened state kept me from calling out, to warn Lenny of the Rottweiler I had seen in my vision.

Was that what this was? Another vision?

The air stopped rippling. The buzzing continued but my head and stomach settled. The dog turned and faced me with flaming red eyes like the ones I had seen across the road and downtown. An inch or two above its eyes were two long and sharp ivory horns that reminded me of cow horns, though they pointed out, not up. A shorter horn poked straight down from the center of its chin. It bared sharp teeth at me, and I emitted a small yelp as I recoiled backwards, both startled and frightened. Berries from my bowl scattered to my lap and the ground. I looked up at the dog’s grotesque face, its stare still focused on me. My breath and the voice I tried using to call out to Lenny for help felt locked in my throat.

The buzzing in my head turned into a sudden scream for a second. Then it quieted, but not completely. A masculine voice similar to the one downtown entered my mind.

Can it see?

I swallowed and caught my breath, but otherwise remained still.

Do you see?

I winced from the anger in the dog’s tone. Then I nodded when I realized it had spoken to me. “Yes. I see.” My voice cracked. I cleared my throat and caught my breath again. “I see you. Yes.” My voice was barely above a whisper.

You see blood?

Blood? I looked hard at the creature. It didn’t appear to be bleeding. “Please don’t hurt me,” I managed to say.

You see blood!

“No. No blood.”

I thought I heard it squeal as it vanished.

The buzzing stopped. I scooped up my bowl and hurried past Lenny. “I’m going in now,” I said when he called for me to wait for him. I walked as fast as I could with legs that felt rubbery and shaky, and I let the wooden screen door slam shut behind me as I rushed indoors to Grandma’s bright yellow kitchen.

“Lenny’s bringing the rest of the berries,” I said out of breath to the quizzical looks I received when I passed Mom at the refrigerator and handed Grandma my bowl. “I’m taking a shower,” I added and held up my stained hands, “if that’s okay.”

“That’s fine, honey,” Grandma said from in front of her large white stove. “But you’ll want to wait about fifteen minutes until the last load of laundry is done washing. Our pump can handle only one job at a time.”

I looked at my blue fingers. “But what about my hands?”

“I already have a solution for that.” Grandma put an arm around me and led me to the kitchen’s aluminum sink. “Cornmeal, toothpaste and lemon juice works wonders on blueberry stains.” She put my bowl of berries in the sink, then scooped her fingers in a yellowish paste in a ceramic cereal bowl on the windowsill and rubbed it on my hands. “Just let this sit for a few minutes, then wash it off with warm water.”

She wiped the paste from her own hands with a dishtowel and returned to the stove where silver pots of cubed potatoes boiled, kernels of corn stewed, and leafy spinach simmered in butter. Mom went to the right of her and stirred the corn with a wooden spoon. Her shoulders slouched and I knew she was exhausted after our long drive. I turned on the water to wash my hands so I could relieve her. It would take my mind off what had happened outside, and it would put me in good graces with her and Grandma. That’s when Amy stepped from the washroom at the right of the stove and stopped at Mom’s side.

“I can do that, Mom,” she said. “You should sit and relax … maybe take a nap.” She embraced Mom for a moment, then took the stirring spoon from her and turned her attention to the pots on the stove.

“Thank you, sweetie,” Mom said. She stretched and released a yawn before heading in the direction of the living room.

“You’re such a dear,” Grandma said to Amy.

“With Daddy not around, I do what I can to help,” my sister said in that falsetto voice she uses when she tries to be better than the rest of us.

Whatever.

I quietly mimicked her words about helping while I scowled out the window above the sink and watched Lenny trudge from the blueberry patch, carrying his bowls of berries. There was no sign of any ugly, pony-size Rottweilers around.

He looked unhappy, so I washed the paste from my hands, dried them on Grandma’s dishtowel, and hurried and met him at the screen door.

“Sorry I didn’t wait for you,” I said through the screen while I thought of a fib that could make things better between us. “I had to use the bathroom.”

His expression softened, but a frown remained on his forehead.

“Are you gonna let me in?” he asked as he held up the two bowls of blueberries.

I started to open the door when Grandpa stepped into view and stood beside Lenny. He carried a coil of white clothesline around a shoulder and held a half-eaten sandwich on wheat bread. The smell of mustard and onion wafted through the screen.

“Help me string this clothesline when you’re done with those berries,” he said to Lenny before proceeding to the side yard and the nearest T-post of clothesline. Someone had hung a colorful display of shirts and pants to dry on the two lines there.

I opened the door and let Lenny inside. He brushed past me and entered the kitchen.

Before the door closed, I caught a glimpse of a large animal standing at the edge of the woods beyond the blueberry patch. I pressed my face to the screen and stared long at the large black dog that stared back at me with its fiery eyes.

You see blood!

The words came like thunder and sent me sprawling on my backside. I hurried upright but the dog was gone again when I looked through the screen.

“And stay gone,” I said. “I don’t ever want to see you again.”

*.*.*

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 6

November 3, 2016
Steve Campbell

I opened my eyes to Mom’s concerned face looking down at me. A warm hand and soft fingers pushed hair from my forehead. I lay on the living room sofa and I felt like I floated. I put a foot to the floor to keep myself anchored.

My shoulder, back and leg muscles ached, but not as bad as my head and eyes; I’d had a seizure.

“How do you feel?” Mom asked.

“I’m fine,” I said and smiled to hide the pain I knew was evident on my face. I reached out and touched one of the silky short sleeves of Mom’s blouse. She wore a cerulean one now with dark blue buttons. I frowned. “Going somewhere?”

“No.” She kissed my forehead before she stood and left the room.

I pushed myself up, waited for the dizziness to clear, then staggered on wobbly legs to the hallway. I thought about splashing my face with cold water in the little bathroom across the hall, but the sound of an electric drill in Mom and Daddy’s old bedroom sent me that direction. Curious, I stepped inside. It still had Mom’s cream-colored wallpaper with blue floral and butterfly patterns on the walls. But a different king-size bed sat where my parents’ bed had been. This one had a rose-colored spread on it.

I took another step on the cream-colored carpet. A tall, sinewy man wearing brown coveralls and a black sweatshirt with rolled up sleeves stood at the walk-in closet with a screwdriver. Grandpa Lybrook was brown, leathery and fit, which came from working long hours outdoors. He lifted his head of well-groomed dark hair and studied me with serious looking brown eyes below frowning brown eyebrows. Then his upturned nose twitched as a slight smile moved the corners of a pinched mouth on a clean-shaven face.

He stopped working a screw in the doorframe and asked, “Will you help me lift this door?” His voice was strong and deep.

“Is it heavy?” I took a step back. “I really shouldn’t lift anything right now.”

“Nonsense. You’ll be fine.”

I looked at the wooden door, then walked over to it and lifted it. It was light. I lifted it higher until Grandpa told me to stop.

“Thank you, Verawenda.”

“Everyone calls me Vree,” I reminded him.

The old man squinted at me a moment while he turned another screw to adjust the track of the closet door. “How are you feeling, Vree? Good as new, I hope.”

“I called you and Grandma from the hospital but you didn’t answer,” I said.

Grandpa grunted. “Phone reception is lousy here. All of Myers Ridge, for that matter, depending how the wind blows, ever since those new sinkholes appeared at my farm and forced your grandmother and me to finally move.”

A noise at the open window across the room kept me from asking what a sinkhole had anything to do with phone reception. Someone in a Navy blue sweatshirt and jeans stood on a stepladder and caulked the top of the window. His face was almost featureless behind the gossamer film of dust on the glass, but I could tell he was good looking.

Grandpa went to the window screen and said, “I’ll pay you an extra twenty if you wash all the dirt off these windows when you’re done caulking. I have glass cleaner and towels in a box on the workbench in the garage.”

The person rubbed dirt from the glass with a cloth and peered in at us. Lenny Stevens had an unclouded, intelligent looking face, although caulk marked his high forehead and the left side of his slender nose. His full lips thinned as he smiled at me from beneath a head of thick, burnt sienna hair before he descended the ladder and said, “Yes sir, right away,” through the screen.

Grandpa returned to the closet door, finished turning the screw, then rolled the door back and forth on its track before he excused himself and headed for the door. He stopped and turned back. A thoughtful look crossed his dark brown eyes.

“I got you some canvases so you can paint some pictures while you’re recuperating,” he said. “I got you an easel too, along with some paint and other things. You’ll find them in your bedroom.” He turned and headed out.

“Thank you,” I called out.

I turned back, but Lenny was gone. I vowed to call Zoey later as I headed to the door.

That’s when I noticed a corner of Mom’s carpet lay rolled away from the floor and some of the floorboards were gone. Grandpa must have decided to fix the section that always squeaked.

I went to it and peered at the darkness, then squealed and backpedaled, dropping my handbag into the hole when a gray mouse scurried from it and ran out the door.

“Ew,” I said, peering down the hall and hoping Mr. Whiskers would find it before it nested in the house. I barely saw its tail vanish around the corner as it entered the morning room.

Back at the hole, I convinced myself that there were no more mice in it before I reached for my bag. The space was deep enough to swallow my entire arm as I felt around the basement’s ceiling and the cement foundation.

I touched something large and leathery. It felt like a book. My bag lay on top.

I retrieved my bag, then lifted a dust-covered book from the floor. It was heavy and as large as one of my coffee table art books. Its dusty cover was black, hard leather, and its pages were askew.

There was no title, even after I blew away some of the dust, which made me sneeze.

I pulled a loose page from the book. Someone had written numbers and figures on the thick and yellow page with a quill pen. I ran a finger over the brittle page. Parts of it crumbled at the edges. The numbers and figures on it shifted and coalesced into letters that became words.

“Free the dancers of truth so that you may know their poetry,” I read aloud.

More words formed from the numbers and figures across the page, which made me dizzy to watch, so I closed my eyes. But I peeked at the book. More brittle pages revealed more numbers and figures that turned into words. More poetry. When the numbers and figures finished turning into words on the pages in front of me, I sat cross-legged, rested the book on my lap, and read silently. Like most poems, none made sense. There was talk about war and captains and kings. There were Greeks and Romans, gods and goddesses, and lords and princesses. Was this history or fable? I couldn’t tell, so I skimmed the verses until one poem stood out from the others because of its shortness and the large size of its letters.

Born from lightning’s flame,
She lives in the heat of shame
Until gone from her life of false existence
She travels the distance, enlightened
And brightened by the flame.

Whatever it meant, I found it rhythmic and catchy.

I closed the book and started to put it back, then changed my mind and headed to my room, the book in hand and weighing down my left side.

I passed framed photographs of Daddy and ignored them. Up the squeaky wooden stairs, I passed more photos. The smell of fresh paint filled my nose. Someone—probably Grandma—had recently painted the upstairs hall a fresh coat of white. More photographs adorned the walls. I went to my room. My single bed with a pink cover with small purple butterflies printed on it sat to the left of the door and my dresser to the left of my bed. A box of oil paints and brushes sat on my bed, and a new painter’s palette sat on the dresser. The easel grandpa had mentioned sat next to my window.

My room was different, but not because of the gifts inside it.

I placed the book and my handbag next to the paints and brushes, then went to my window and pulled the blinds so I wouldn’t have to look at the oak tree in the backyard. Before the blinds closed, the white crow appeared at my window.

I shrieked and stepped away, bumping the easel and knocking a blank canvas from its perch. I caught it and stood it up again, then peeked out my window blinds. If the crow was there, I didn’t see it.

What I saw, however, caused me to drop the blinds and back away from the window.

“Eyes,” I said when Lenny came to my door and knocked on the frame. “Red eyes.”

That’s all I remember before waking up on my bedroom carpet.

*.*.*

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 5

November 3, 2016
Steve Campbell

“So, Grandma and Grandpa are staying with us, huh?” I said, looking back at the red Dodge pickup truck in the driveway. “Things are gonna be different.” I lowered my voice. “A lot.”

I unbuckled my seatbelt, slid from my seat and out my door, and stood like a newborn foal on concrete next to the sweet smell of country grass coming from an open window. A memory charged at me, but I hurried away from it and followed Mom to the back door.

The door opened and a shorthaired, red-haired woman wearing a green sweatshirt, blue jeans and pink tennis shoes, stepped out and greeted us. Then she hurried to me and hugged me.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Grandma Evelyn said, stepping back and appraising me with a smile. “How do you feel? Can I get you anything?”

“I’m … better,” I said. “I have to have more tests, but….”

Grandma raised an eyebrow.

“It’s true,” Mom said. “It’s all about getting to the bottom of this tumor and getting it taken care of.”

“Which isn’t going to happen with us standing in the garage, talking about it.” Grandma put an arm across the back of my shoulders.

Everything vanished.

The young woman tried to be her quietest when she closed the apartment’s front door, but the click of the latch seemed like a gunshot to her. She held her breath as she leaned her forehead against the door’s cool wood. Would Trevor awaken and find her gone? Or would Balen awaken in his crib and alert his father that she had abandoned them?

What sort of mother abandons their baby?

She held the doorknob in her grip and willed herself not to cry. Not now. There would be plenty of time to cry later. Now was a time to be levelheaded and leave before she changed her mind.

All her young adult life had been spent running away from her past, searching for the real her. Trevor had been certain getting married next month and living a life of magic would be best for her. But when Balen had levitated the lamp last night, she knew she would never be comfortable with that kind of life.

She released the knob, crept down the stairs to the double glass doors of the vestibule, and entered the seven a.m. crawl of college students, professors, and campus workers along Maple Boulevard. She turned away from faces and automobiles that looked familiar and hurried to and out the black iron front gate of New Cambridge University. She buttoned her green wool coat to keep out the March wind blowing at her while she pressed on.

The Greyhound bus station was dimly lit but warm. Her bus left in a half-hour. Would Trevor know she was here?

She sat in the hard plastic seat near the loading doors, stared at the snack vending machine next to the cigarette machine, and wished she had brought some nickels and dimes with her. But she had put all her coins in Balen’s piggy bank last night, and the billfold in her purse contained only a few dollars left from her last paycheck from O’Brien’s Bar.

A tall young man exited the phone booth next to the cigarette machine and dropped a white piece of folded paper. He sat two chairs to her right and seemed unaware of the paper on the dark tile floor. Was it important?

“You dropped something,” she said to him.

He looked at her with pleasant eyes that seemed as black as the long, wool duffel coat he wore. Unlike other men his age, his dark brown hair was short and he sported no sideburns or beard of any kind.

She pointed a forefinger at the paper. He held his gaze on her and his expression turned to curiosity and then to recognition.

“Evelyn Doyle. Hey, it’s me, Jack Lybrook.”

She flinched at the mention of her name. “Do I know you?”

“We went to Ridgewood High, though you were a grade behind me. And my parents and I used to go to your dad’s church when you and I were kids. I was Jonathan … or Johnny back then.”

Evelyn nodded as complete recognition sunk in. Many boys had gone to her father’s Pentecostal church, but only Johnny Lybrook and few others had ever whispered to their friends how pretty Evelyn was.

“I go by Jack now,” he said. “Like JFK did.”

Evelyn glanced at the clock above the loading doors. Five minutes had passed. She looked again at the folded paper on the floor.

“You dropped that,” she said, pointing again.

“My notes. Thank you.” Jack fetched the paper and returned to his seat. “I’m looking to buy some farm property in Ridgewood … maybe start a dairy farm after I graduate college.”

“Are you a student at New Cambridge?”

“No. I go to Penn State. It has a first-class agriculture program and excellent business courses. Our Spring Break is over and I’m catching the next bus.” He raised an eyebrow. “You?”

Evelyn looked around. Except for the man at the ticket window, it was just the two of them. If Trevor found her before her bus left, would Jack try to protect her? She didn’t want anyone getting hurt because of her. But that’s what she did: hurt the ones she loved.

She broke down and wept. She felt Jack’s arms around her before she saw that he now sat next to her. She welcomed his comfort and tried to hide inside his embrace. He hushed her sobs and wiped away her tears with a handkerchief.

He held her until a man’s voice announced over the intercom that it was time to board the bus heading east.

Evelyn took Jack’s hand and let him lead her through the loading doors, away from the man who claimed to be a wizard, and a thirteen-month-old son who could perform magic stronger than hers. As she boarded the bus, she vowed to leave magic forever.

*.*.*

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 4

October 24, 2016
Steve Campbell

CT scans, MRIs, PET scans, x-rays, all in five days … “I’m gonna glow in the dark,” I said to Mom while I looked out at the rain and soggy countryside zooming past us. It was 4:30 p.m. and New Cambridge was behind us. Ridgewood and home was less than an hour away.

Mom asked if I wanted to see Daddy’s grave. I shook my head, then sighed, leaned the side of my head against the window’s cool glass, and hoped the temperature change wouldn’t cause a seizure.

Stupid tumor.

I shut my eyes from a patch of brighter daylight that picked at my headache, and listened to the SUV’s wipers travel at full speed across the windshield. Mom turned on instrumental music from her favorite New Age CD and said, “I told you that Grandma and Grandpa are living with us now. The sinkholes are swallowing more of their farm and we have the room, so…. Grandpa bought you some new canvases. And Grandma is fixing that Greek dinner you like.”

My stomach gurgled at the mention of Greek food. Though Mom and I had eaten before leaving New Cambridge—a fish sandwich for her and hotdogs and fries for me—my mouth watered at the thought of Grandma’s scrumptious moussaka casserole for supper and her melt-in-your-mouth kourabiethes for dessert.

I undid my ponytail and let my hair fall down my back. The rain let up then, and most of the trip was a peaceful one with soothing music playing inside Mom’s silver Sorento.

Then the SUV’s transmission made rattling noises. Ahead, a large, weather-beaten billboard sign read WELCOME TO RIDGEWOOD in large, black letters.

I clutched my new Dior handbag and swallowed at the panic rising in my throat. I pressed the bag to my chest. The multihued embroidered bag contained a new smart phone, a tablet, a wallet with one hundred dollars in it, some makeup, and medicine for headaches and nausea—everything I needed to keep from falling apart.

I inhaled and tried to look happy.

I really wanted to go home. But that would mean being where Daddy had died. Lightning had killed him because … because I was unable to push the lawnmower to the shed.

The road gave way to three sets of bone jarring railroad tracks. The tracks passed by a defunct steel making factory with lots of broken windows facing me. The broken glass looked like sharp teeth and the windows were like mouths wanting to devour anyone passing by. Below them, names and obscenities spray-painted on the concrete walls in a convoluted mess reminded me of Ridgewood’s seedy underbelly.

Past the factory and a block of typical, residential clapboard houses, the town came into view. Chipped and faded brick and cement storefronts pressed tight against each other on both sides of the street. Their big windows with names like Suzie’s Styles & Cuts, Jerry’s Discount Shop, and Coleman’s Sporting Goods in large fonts revealed no one shopping inside the stores. Even the wide, downtown street lacked cars and foot traffic.

New Cambridge had teemed with traffic. As usual, Ridgewood looked like a ghost town.

Mom stopped at a red light. Outside my window, a nondescript brick and mortar building with a green steel door belched two ragged looking men onto the uneven sidewalk. The men staggered past the building’s two grimy windows that had neon signs advertising ice-cold beer inside. The last window sported a black and white sign in it that announced fifty-cent wings on Saturday nights only.

The men disappeared around the building’s corner and a moment later, three girls on bicycles turned up the street. They shrilled and shrieked obscenities at each other as they raced by. Then the green door belched again and a dark-complexioned, white-haired woman exited. She leaned against the front wall of the two-story building and smoked a cigarette. She seemed to pay no attention to the chugging Sorento, or anything else around her for that matter while she inhaled deeply from her cigarette. Her lined face looked ancient and her plump body had on a tattered green Army jacket, a red sweatshirt, and blue jeans that looked brand-new.

A chill crossed over me as the beer joint’s exposed inner darkness pulled my attention to it. Past the door that the woman had propped open with a broken cement block, two large red eyes peered from within.

DOES IT SEE ME?

The words came to me in a shout.

CAN IT SEE BLOOD?

I turned away from the spooky eyes and shuddered from the voice’s ferocity.

Buzzing sounds followed, as though thousands of bees had flown inside the SUV and were now inside my head.

The air rippled around me like disturbed pond water and made me nauseous. I fell back against my seat, worried that I was going to lose my hotdogs and fries all over my lap, and closed my eyes.

“Wait,” I cried out when Mom started through the intersection. Something terrible was going to happen. A chill ran between my shoulder blades. “Stop the car. Please stop the car.”

Mom brought the SUV to a quick and white-knuckle stop, then turned in her seat. “What’s wrong?” Worry mixed with the exhaustion and sweat on her face.

The rippling air and buzzing noise stopped.

Beyond the hammering of blood rushing past my eardrums, the ticking and rattle of the Sorento’s engine relieved my anxiety with their familiarity.

“Are you okay?” Mom asked.

Outside the window, the white-haired woman still leaned against the wall and smoked her cigarette. The red eyes inside were gone.

“I got really sick for a moment,” I said, which wasn’t a lie.

“Do you feel like you need to vomit?”

“I’m feeling better.” I closed my eyes and tried to make sense of what had happened. “But I’m not fine.” I fumbled in my bag and found my pills for nausea.

The Sorento’s engine stalled for a moment before it roared to life and the SUV leaped through the intersection.

I grabbed the bottled water in my cup holder and washed down the pill. As I closed my eyes and tried to relax, my mind replayed the red eyes I saw and the words I heard. Does it see me? Can it see blood? What did that mean? What blood? Whose blood? Who had said those words?

Had something tragic happened back at the beer joint?

“Almost home,” Mom said after striking an open palm against the dashboard. The AC’s fan started working again.

The scenery outdoors became country again. Acres of second growth fields and pastures with old fences rolled past us. I wondered about my grandparents and if living with them would be a happy arrangement, or if they’d bicker as usual when they disagreed about something, which was most of the time.

Storm clouds remained threatening over Myers Ridge as we drove past fields of tall grass, barley and corn, and turned up a long gravel driveway that took us to our white Colonial house and two-car garage painted to match the house. Mom’s lush flowerbeds and rosebushes around the house were overgrown a little and needed pruning.

I looked up at the garage roof and thought I saw a white crow there. I blinked, but Mom pulled inside the garage. A chill ran down my spine. Something dark and unsettling lingered in the darkness when Mom opened the door and said, “Come on, Vree honey, we’re home.”

*.*.*

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Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 3

October 20, 2016
Steve Campbell

Storms have a way of looking worse through windows.

It was a sudden thought as a torrent of rain outside the hospital drummed like a carwash rinse down the long and narrow plate glass windows at my left. Outside, the streets were probably empty, everyone indoors, cursing the rain, but celebrating the Fourth of July Weekend, all the same.

The stormy Sunday afternoon skylight over New Cambridge had darkened to a faux twilight that exaggerated the artificial lighting inside the anteroom of the hospital’s Radiology/Nuclear Imaging floor, which made the sterile white walls glow almost ghostlike.

Next to me, Mom sighed from a matching green, plush chair. She leaned against the chair’s left arm and pushed at the keypad on her smartphone. Worry lines still creased her brow where strands of auburn hair curled and rested against her forehead. She wore a red blouse, black slacks, and black pumps—her usual “business casual” outfit.

“It shouldn’t be much longer,” I said. The digital clock behind the empty receptionist area read 3:49. I was the last patient after seven hours of body scans, and I was out of the hospital gown and in my street clothes after residing at New Cambridge Mercy Hospital for fifteen days.

Worry that there was something life-threatening wrong with me crept into my thoughts. Thinking about eating Chicago-style hotdogs and fries afterwards provided a form of anesthesia that helped me relax. I sat back and closed my eyes, my hands folded on my lap until

“Hello, Karrie,” Dr. Carlyle said. Then, “How do you feel, Verawenda?”

I put my hands to my side and sat up straight. This was it. Soon I would know why I had developed seizures and severe migraine headaches after waking from my coma.

The doctor stood next to Mom’s chair and peered down at me. Even though Dr. Carlyle was probably Mom’s age, I found myself attracted to his handsome, good-natured face.

“I’m good,” I lied at the same time Mom said, “What have you found out?” The strain in her voice made its pitch sound higher than normal.

Dr. Carlyle sat next to her, away from me.

Silence fell and I found the sound of rain disturbing. With each breath, I waited for Dr. Carlyle’s revelation. A long moment passed before he leaned forward and peered at me. His expression no longer held the good nature from a moment ago.

“The tumor pressing against your brain is inoperable but likely treatable with stereotactic laser ablation.”

“What’s stereotactic laser ablation?” Mom asked.

Dr. Carlyle turned back to her. He answered but his voice sounded far away and muffled as though he were underwater. Had the lightning that struck me and put me in a coma caused the tumor? Or had the tumor already been there?

I focused again on Dr. Carlyle.

“The procedure concentrates on the tumor itself,” he said, “while preserving neighboring healthy tissue.” He looked at me, which caused me to lean toward him. “Some patients have seizures afterwards, but they’re mild and happen less often than if you were to have surgery.”

“Do you do the ablation?” I asked. “And how soon can I have it done?”

Dr. Carlyle smiled and shook his head. “No. Our hospital’s not equipped for that.” Then to Mom, he said, “It will mean traveling to New York City or Philadelphia. Both have excellent hospitals.”

“She will get better,” Mom said. “Right?” Hope flickered around the sadness that etched her eyes and mouth.

“That’s what we’re aiming for. Meanwhile, Verawenda can continue her meds for now.”

Mom nodded but the glimmer of hope in her eyes vanished. She said, “You mentioned yesterday that brain tumors are commonly caused by cancers elsewhere in the body that later spread to the brain.”

“Yes. But let’s take care of the tumor first. Get Verawenda feeling better.”

“So you haven’t ruled out cancer?”

“Your daughter is young. Secondary brain tumors usually occur in patients with a history of cancer. We’ve checked her kidney, colon, skin and lungs, and all her tests have come back negative. If you’d like, we can schedule her to have a breast exam tomorrow.”

“Yes. That would be best.”

“I agree.” Dr. Carlyle looked sorry when he looked at me, but he looked back at Mom and returned talking about me as though I were invisible.

I left my chair, walked to one of the narrow windows, and stared out at the rain, down at the headlights of cars driving past on the street five stories below. The people in those cars weren’t celebrating the Fourth of July like I thought they were.

What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong with the world?

A white crow walked into view. It stood on the concrete ledge and peered at me with black eyes. It cawed from a black beak, though the rain striking the glass muffled its sound. It cawed again, then vanished as though it had never been there.

What’s wrong with me?

“It may take three or four months. It all depends on what we find.” Dr. Carlyle stood and said goodbye. I watched his reflection in the glass leave the room.

Life has a way of looking worse when you start poking at it.

I turned and followed Mom to the elevator bay. I prayed I wouldn’t faint or have a seizure on the way down.

I didn’t.

*.*.*

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Save

Correction

October 19, 2016
Steve Campbell

In my haste to post more often, I misspelled Margga, the witch-spirit character from the Vree Erickson story, Margga’s Curse, in my most recent posts. Corrections were made and, while I had a few minutes to spare, I redesigned my site to a slimmer, sleeker one. I plan to continue posting the revised version of Margga’s Curse as soon as I get time between my busier-than-usual work schedule.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t done so, check out my free stories here at this site, and other free stories available at Smashwords and Wattpad.

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 2

October 10, 2016
Steve Campbell

Wherever I was, I could not see much, just gray darkness similar to the warm and safe kind beneath my blankets when Zoey and I used them for tents in my bedroom. But I was not beneath my blankets. The grayness was infinite here, wherever here was, and I floated and rolled and swam in it, which made me certain I was dreaming.

There was nothing to look at, only my hands and arms and the rest of my body below my head, though they were almost impossible to see in the grayness. I wore a gown—no. Not a gown. It was a long T-shirt—the kind I wore as pajamas. I also had a pair of white ankle socks on feet that seemed far away. They floated in and out of sight.

I soon grew bored with floating, so I sat, surprised to find a plush seat beneath me—a sofa by its size and shape when I stretched out my arms on either side.

“Nice,” I said.

The sofa made a comfortable bed.

“Very nice.”

I floated alone. And I liked it.

I floated with my sofa, going nowhere.

There was no sense of emergency here—no alarm to awaken me to another day of chores, no schedules to follow and adhere to, and no places to be at, like Chase’s baseball games and Trina’s piano recitals.

I liked that, too.

Except for the infinite grayness. It was like being underwater. I searched for color. I had seen plenty of colorful underwater worlds of coral reefs and tropical fish.

But this was not the ocean.

“Where am I?” I asked a pinpoint of white light far above me, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away.

An urgent need to go to it overwhelmed me. Whatever was there was important. Perhaps color was there. I sat up.

“Hurry,” I said to my sofa, which floated and ignored my requests for it to speed to the light. “I need to go there. Now.”

“Let it come to you,” a familiar voice said from the sofa seat to my right.

“Daddy?” I squealed, delighted to hear his voice.

“Be patient,” he said from the grayness, his thin body an almost featureless shape next to me. I scrambled into his embrace of long arms that wrapped around me and held me close. His Aqua Velva cologne made me grin wide while I snuggled against him.

Sudden white light bathed us as though someone had flicked on a light switch. I fell from Daddy’s embrace but remained snuggled against him. He wore his usual dark work suit and polished, black leather Florsheim wingtip oxfords—all business. And my T-shirt was the Bugs Bunny one from last Christmas.

I felt a change in the cloth against my left cheek. Daddy now wore his blue silk robe and matching pajamas and slippers from the same Christmas.

“How did you change clothes so fast?” I asked.

“It’s Christmas,” he said, pointing a long finger at the infinite white space in front of us. I looked, wanting to see a Christmas tree and decorations there, but there was none. No Christmas smells of cookies and cake, and no carols playing in the background. No noise at all.

Someone coughed. A quick, soft cough loud enough that it sent my attention to an armchair that descended from above us. It stopped in front of the sofa and a girl looked up from an open, oversized hardcover book.

“You look like me,” I said.

The doppelganger smiled at me, then closed the book softly and laid it in her lap of skinny leg jeans—my favorite pair from last Christmas. She even wore my oversized tank top with a print of Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night on the front, which had also been a Christmas gift. Her blonde hair—either fastened in a bun or a ponytail in the back—was pulled tight from her face.

I brushed a hand against my hair. It was loose and draped around my neck and shoulders.

“Who is she?” I asked Daddy. “Why does she look like me?”

“I am you,” the doppelganger said.

“This is such a weird dream,” I said to Daddy. “I don’t think I’ve ever dreamed about me before.”

“’Tis no dream, girlfriend,” the other me said. “Welcome to one of death’s many realities … home away from home … the land of repetition and boredom.” She yawned audibly.

“Hush,” Daddy said to her. Then, to me, he said, “She’s your subconscious. She needs to be a part of you, not floating here without you. You must pull her in so you can recover. The two of you need to be one again.”

Recover? I clutched Daddy’s arm in a tight embrace. “Recover from what?”

“A coma,” the other me called out. “Lightning struck us. It killed Daddy and put us in the hospital, dying.”

I scowled at the girl. “I don’t like this dream. I wish you’d go away.”

“You’re in denial, girlfriend. But that doesn’t change the facts. You need to wake from this coma.”

“I don’t believe you,” I said. “Daddy’s right here. This is just a dream trying to go bad.” I searched Daddy’s solemn face. “Tell her she’s crazy.”

Daddy met my gaze. “To awaken from your coma, you need to be one with your subconscious and create order in your mind. You need to embrace your subconscious again.”

“What are you saying?” I shook my head.

“You can do this, Vree, honey,” Daddy said. “The lightning separated you from your subconscious, but it also triggered special abilities in you. You need your subconscious so you can live.”

I let go of his arm, scooted away, then crossed my arms over my chest and said, “This is just a dream. Nothing more. Just a dream.”

No one said anything.

My clothes felt damp and cool. I uncrossed my arms and looked down at myself. I no longer wore the Bugs Bunny shirt. My red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt made me think of rain, thunder, and—

“If this isn’t a dream, then where am I?”

“Somewhere between life and death,” the other me said.

I moaned and shook my head. “Stop talking about death.”

“Hey-hey, girlfriend,” she called out, “where’s the love?”

“I don’t love you!”

“Without her, you cannot live,” Daddy said.

“If all this is true and you’re dead but I’m not, I don’t wanna live without you.”

“Hush your nonsense, Verawenda Renee. You need to continue living. You need to do important things where you’re going. Now, sit up straight, chin out, and bring your subconscious to you. Think it and it will happen. Accept her and she will come. Let it happen.”

I frowned at him. He had moved closer to me. He reached out and took my left hand, lifted it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. Then he released it. A white light glowed from my hand, spread up my arm, then over me until the light bathed me.

Across the short distance, white light bathed the other me.

“Now that you’re awakening, it’s time for me to go.” Daddy’s form grew translucent. “The path of your new life will be difficult, especially where you are headed. But your subconscious will be with you to help.” He raised a finger to hush my interruption. “You can do this.”

He vanished.

The light hurt my eyes, so I covered them with my hands.

“Breathe,” the other me said, her voice coming from all directions.

“I am breathing,” I said.

“Breathe,” she said again.

I sucked in a breath. “See? Breathing.”

“Deeper. I want you to take a deep breath this time. A really big breath.”

“Why?”

“You know why.”

I wanted to tell her I didn’t, but she was right.

I uncovered my eyes. Then I took in a deep breath. The pinpoint of white light far above me, shining like a solitary star a billion miles away, rushed at me and consumed me in blazing light.

*.*.*

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Get On With Telling More Stories

October 8, 2016
Steve Campbell

Lenny

Hi. Lenny Stevens here. You may remember me from my last post, Help A Guy Out.

I think Steve Campbell is making a mistake rewriting the Margga’s Curse story so that Vree Erickson’s parts are in first person point of view—aka 1p POV. He’s trying to be trendy because many young adult books today are written that way. I say “Leave it 3p POV and get on with telling more stories.”

But I know he’s gonna tinker more with Vree’s first story, so that’s why I’m butting in with my two cents and publishing it at his blog. Then he’ll see it and maybe listen to me.

So, Steve, I know 1p POV makes the character seem closer to the reader: we follow along in their heads as they do business. “I went there, I saw this, I did such and such,” blah, blah, blah, etc. You can only tell the story of what the narrator experienced, or experiences (as in the case of writing in present tense—please don’t write in present tense and make me box your ears with how much I hate that, too).  When you write in good ole time-tested, reader approved third person past tense the way you did with the original Margga’s Curse, you can cover all important POVs and tell the story from different angles without switching back and forth from third person to first person. Many readers hate all that switching back and forth. And I’m one of them.

Another reason I dislike reading 1p POV stories—suspenseful ones especially—is I find myself distracted from the story’s immediacy by thinking “You’re gonna make it out alive. You’re telling the story!” 1p POV kills suspense, and Margga’s Curse is full of suspense.

So, my dear Steve, if it’s closeness that seems lacking in Margga’s Curse, I suggest writing it with deep POV. Deep POV is the feeling that the reader is in the characters’ shoes. The story is seen and felt through the characters’ experiences, history, thoughts and feelings, but told in 3p POV without markers.

Markers, you may remember from those writing classes you took years ago, are the reminders to us readers that a character is doing something. She felt, he saw, she watched, he thought and so on. It’s reporting. It keeps readers removed from story events and the characters’ feelings. Get rid of ’em. Doing so pulls us readers deeper into story events and deeper into the characters’ minds and hearts.

Here’s an example with the markers watched, thought, saw, and felt:

Lenny followed Vree to the pine tree behind the house and watched her toss her backpack atop a branch. When it stayed, she hurried back, never once looking to see if she was being followed.

And she thinks she’s being sneaky, he thought as he saw her go inside the house. Please.

Lenny waited a few minutes, then took Vree’s pack from the branch. He hesitated before he stuck his hand inside. He thought that the creature living in the green crystal would turn him into a toad as soon as he touched it. He flexed his hand and sucked in a breath before he felt three of the crystal’s smooth, icy facets burn at his fingertips.

Here’s an example without markers:

Lenny followed Vree to the pine tree behind the house. She tossed her backpack atop a branch, then hurried back to the house, never once looking to see if anyone followed.

And she thinks she’s being sneaky? Please.

After waiting a few minutes, he rescued her pack, hesitating before he stuck his hand in. Would the creature living in the green crystal turn him into a toad as soon as he touched it? He flexed his hand, holding his breath before three of the crystal’s smooth, icy facets burned his fingertips.

Without barriers like watched, thought, saw, and felt, the reader moves deeper into the story world by being one with the character instead of watching the character perform and react.

So there you have it: my stance to keep the story and all following stories about Vree and me at 3p past tense and with deep POV.

If you take my advice, you’ll thank me that you did. I guarantee it.

Now, finish more stories about Vree and me so I can get more fans. I plan on starting a fan club and you’re not helping.

Thanks for listening. Don’t make me keep commandeering your blog.

Kismet eBook Is Free Till Halloween

October 7, 2016
Steve Campbell

A reminder that my 99-cent sci-fi adventure novella Kismet: A Ridgewood Tale is still free at Smashwords, which ends Halloween (10/31/2016). To get yours, go to my Smashwords page and enter coupon code AR96Q (not case-sensitive) when ordering. You can download the book in the following formats for your tablet, e-reader and /or computer: epub, mobi, pdf, lrf, pdb, txt, and html.

For more information about Kismet, click on my bookstore page tab at my blog’s header.

Thank you.

Margga’s Curse, revised: Chapter 1

October 2, 2016
Steve Campbell

Intro

I know, most of you would rather see my artwork and photography than read my writing. But for the handful of followers who enjoy my writing segments, here’s the continuation of my attempt to rewrite Night of the Hellhounds, or accurately, Margga’s Curse.

After I published Night of the Hellhounds with its new title 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 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.

“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, but I read the first-person draft again. I liked it. Its pace was quicker than the draft I published. Other reasons I liked it are

  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’m publishing here the first-person story with changes. I hope you like it.

The Story

I yanked the steering wheel of Daddy’s John Deere riding mower and dodged mowing over my brother’s black leather baseball glove. Surface roots of the old oak tree in our backyard jostled me while I tried steering away from them. The lawnmower pitched left, right, left again, tossing me like yesterday’s roller coaster ride on Old Shaky, and then… BAM. The deck slammed down on a root. The blade stopped. The motor whined. I took my foot from the gas pedal and groaned. I had promised Daddy I would be careful mowing the lawn this time.

But this was not my fault. Chase promised that he had picked up his sports equipment before he, Trina and Mom left to shop at Ridgewood Village Mall an hour ago.

I pondered what to do about the mower. All I knew was how to check and fill the gas tank and oil, and how to start it and turn it off. Driving the thing over the hilly terrain without killing myself was a plus.

“Hello? Vree? Are you there?” Zoey’s voice brought me back.

“Let me call you back,” I said to the voice in my pink and black headphones over my ears. I shut off the mower’s engine.

“Are you okay?” Zoey asked. “It sounded like you were in an accident.”

“My stupid brother left his glove in the yard, which caused me to get the lawnmower stuck on some tree roots. My dad’s gonna kill me if I broke anything.”

“Do you need me to come over?” Zoey asked.

I sat forward, tugged my red KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON T-shirt from my sweaty back, then wiped my palms on the knees of my blue jeans. “I’m okay,” I answered. A wet breeze blew the ends of my long blonde hair across my face, covering my eyes for a moment. I pushed my hair away and shivered from another breeze. The sunny day had turned gray in an instant.

“You get ready for my birthday party,” I said. “I’ll push the mower into the shed and finish cleaning the kitchen and living room.”

“I’m so excited for you,” Zoey said before she squealed. “You’re a teenager now.”

I shrugged. I didn’t feel any different.

“See you at six, birthday girl,” Zoey said before she ended the call.

I removed the Bluetooth headphones and put them over the steering wheel. Then I jumped from the tractor, pulled my hair back, twirled it into a bun, and hurried to the rear of the lawnmower. I needed to finish my chores by four o’clock and shower before Mom got home from shopping.

I placed both hands on the back of the seat and rocked the mower, grunting and pushing it until it was away from the roots. The damaged root exposed a white, wet wound where the lawnmower blade had cut it. Daddy would be disappointed in me for damaging his grandfather’s oak tree—again. Luckily, there was a can of tree wound sealer in the shed left over from last year.

I leapt into my seat and tried starting the mower. The engine coughed but did not jump to life as it was supposed to do.

If the lawnmower was broken…. I groaned at the thought. This was different from staying out past curfew, or cutting my hair uneven with Mom’s good scrapbook scissors, or vomiting corndogs on Daddy at Alice Lake’s rollercoaster ride yesterday.

“Come on,” I begged as I tried the engine again. Things had to start going my way.

Thunder banged from a sky that had grown darker with bruised looking clouds. My phone’s weather app had said it would rain today. If only my phone had an app to let me know when I was about to screw up my life.

I could dodge life’s embarrassments and stay out of trouble.

More thunder banged, vibrating its way into me. The sky seemed to open and drop a flood of rain past the umbrella of leafy branches, drenching me. I scampered to the tree trunk and shivered from the chill beneath heavy branches. Thirty yards away, my parents’ spacious Colonial home beckoned me inside where it was dry and warm. My orange tabby cat sat at the living room’s middle bay window, watching from behind the rain-streaked glass, and meowing for his three o’clock meal.

I looked away. Rain fell hard on the lawnmower and my good pair of headphones, so I darted to the left side of the green and yellow mower and pushed, losing my footing twice on the wet grass after three steps. I hurried to the back of the mower and pushed.

After losing my footing again, I looked up. Daddy’s black Escalade pulled in the driveway. I groaned. It wasn’t five o’clock. He wasn’t supposed to be home yet.

Daddy hurried from his vehicle, leaving its headlights on, the engine running, and frantic wipers slapping rain from the windshield. He juggled his opened umbrella while he took to the right side of the mower and helped me push the tractor across the soggy ground, closer to the shed behind the garage.

A flash of bright white light and tremendous heat engulfed me. Something popped in my head. I smelled freshly mowed grass close to my nose before I realized I lay on my stomach in the wet grass. Rain fell on my back.

I tried to get up, but my body refused to cooperate. Even my head refused to turn.

That’s all I remember before

*.*.*

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Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 4)

September 30, 2016
Steve Campbell

Chapter 4: Turning the Short Story into a Novel

Sometime in 1998 I planned writing a novel based on a friend’s idea of a teenager moving to a new town where there are magic and weird happenings afoot. The concept was an overused one but that didn’t stop me from mapping the story and building the story and character arcs. I named the main character Serafina Jones, wrote several chapters, then deep-sixed it when the middle bogged and new projects came along.

Fast forward to 2012 when I pulled that old WIP from my desk and saw potential to breathe new life into it. I changed Serafina Jones to Verawenda Erickson and wrote a story about a 15-year-old girl developing psychic powers at the same time she and her family move in with her grandparents in a new town where a witch’s spirit and hellhounds cause havoc next door.

I finished the final draft in 2014, replaced “Night of the Hellhounds” short story at Amazon and Barnes & Noble with the novel, and said, “That’s that.”

Night of the Hellhounds, 4.0: The Amazon Novel

Enter the magical world of 15-year-old Vree Erickson who survived a deadly lightning strike. Although she lost her father and her home to the lightning, she can see and do things few people can because of it. But she doesn’t want these powers. And who can blame her once she becomes the interest of a witch’s spirit who wants Vree’s powers for self-serving ends.

Chapter 5: Title and Story Conflict

When I publish a story, I try not to read it later on. In my mind it’s perfect even though it has flaws. I reread Night of the Hellhounds a few months later and found a major flaw: Theme and Title. It didn’t take me long to see that the book’s title didn’t follow the story’s theme of a witch’s curse on a family that lives up the road from Vree. So…

Night of the Hellhounds, 4.1: Margga’s Curse

15-year-old Vree Erickson is destined to die this summer. Although she is a healthy girl, all the fates point to her demise. But despite what the fates have planned for her, every decision she makes over the summer will either change her destiny or leave it the same.

Vree and her family are forced to move upstate to her maternal grandparents’ home on Myers Ridge near Ridgewood, Pennsylvania after lightning strikes her, kills her father, and burns down her family’s home. To complicate matters further, the lightning strike leaves her with psychic powers. On the day of the move, she sees and hears mysterious invisible creatures and becomes a victim to an annual curse when the vengeful spirit of a witch returns to the property next door and reigns terror there. With the help of the boy from up the road, she embarks on a difficult journey to save her life and destroy the ghost witch who wants her dead.

Chapter 6: Putting the “I” In Vree

Flash back to 2013 when, soon after I published “Night of the Hellhounds,” I wrote and published Vree’s next chapters. In them she finds a green crystal that magnifies her psychic powers. The crystal also contains an imprisoned spirit that she accidentally frees. The spirit possesses Vree and all sorts of havoc breaks loose. These chapters appeared at Amazon for 99 cents per chapter because Amazon wouldn’t allow me to charge less (which is a major gripe of mine with the company). So I unpublished them at Amazon and put them here at my blog for free. You can find them above my header where it says Green Crystal Stories.

Soon after I scrapped those chapters I began working on a new novel for Vree. 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. Because first person is a limited scope to work with, the third person draft is tight and has less head hopping.

Sometimes, however, the urgency of first person point of view gets diluted in the change. This happened with the second novel and has delayed publication. I wrestled with the idea of changing Vree’s point of view to third person, or leaving it at first person. The entire first novel is told in third person, so all of her stories should follow suit. Right?

But what if I changed her point of view in the first book to first person?

Night of the Hellhounds, 4.2: Margga’s Curse Rewritten

Instead of republishing the book at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, and the several other outlets it’s at right now, I have decided to post the story and its changes here, one chapter at a time. I hope you’ll come along for the ride. And I hope you’ll leave me comments, just to keep me honest if the story should bog.

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Developing Characters and Story, Part 4

September 29, 2016
Steve Campbell

My Psychic Abilities, by Vree Erickson

A girl with psychic abilities is sometimes called a witch or sorceress. I am neither. I do not practice witchcraft or sorcery, though I do have a book that contains magic spells … when the book reveals them to me. Lightning struck me and unlocked psychic abilities in me. I believe everyone has them, but some people are more “gifted” (or cursed) than others, the same way that some of us are naturally inclined towards music or mathematics, for example. The lightning changed me and has made me more aware of these abilities in me.

Psychic abilities are also known as extrasensory perception (ESP) and sixth sense. There are many kinds and I am slowly discovering and developing new ones. Below is a list of psychic abilities that I developed … or more accurately, psychic powers that appeared in me without me consciously making them happen.

Having psychic abilities can be fun and scary. The effects of psychic abilities are poorly understood, and mainstream science is not at the point of accepting the validity of scientific studies performed in parapsychology and consciousness research. Even with the available documented information detailing proof of psychic functioning, most people remain unaware of these results, and many others, like my brother and sister, have a pseudo skeptic outlook.

Mediumship or Channeling — My first ability was being able to see and talk to my dead father’s spirit. This ability includes communicating with ghosts. The latter happened after I awoke from my coma and moved to Myers Ridge in Ridgewood.

When lightning struck me, it also struck my dad and our house. It killed my dad and burned down our house, leaving my family and me homeless. I was in a coma after lightning struck me and I had a weird dream about my dad. He told me he was dead. Some people close to me who are involved with studying psychic phenomena say that this was a precognitive dream. I disagree. My dad was already dead when he came to me. Another argument, which I feel may be true, is this was a telepathic experience with him. All the same, I saw and spoke to him then, and again during and after my family and I moved to Myers Ridge.

After I awoke, Daddy told me not to tell anyone that I could see him. I think he wanted to spare me from ridicule. Most people, including me, don’t take well to things they don’t understand.

Astral or Mental Projection — When Daddy came to me during my coma, he told me and showed me that I was in a coma. I believe I traveled out-of-body where my “astral body” separated itself from my physical body. It’s been the only time I’ve done this, so I have little evidence to back my theory. But my gut says I really stood at my bedside and saw myself in bed at the hospital.

Telepathy, Mind-Reading and Thought Transference — This is the ability to receive and send thoughts and emotions, like when my family first entered Ridgewood and I received the troubled thought of a Roualen—a traveler from another planet and galaxy that became marooned with its kind on Myers Ridge. Along with this came Empathy—the ability to sense their needs, drives, and emotions—though not right away.

Precognition or Premonition — This happened once: perceiving events in flashes of detailed insight before they happened. And I certainly received plenty of strange looks from my siblings when I warned our mom of an impending traffic disaster after I saw the Mayflower truck with our meager belongings in it pass through our SUV.

Clairvoyance or Second Sight — Lenny argues that because I could see past the cloaking devices that made the Roualens look invisible to the human eye, that I am able to perceive outside the known human senses. He says this ability includes being able to read Margga’s book of magic written in a language that he cannot understand.

Retrocognition or Post-Cognition — This is the ability to see past events. I can do this only when I touch people. It isn’t something that I do purposely … it just happens.

Energy Medicine — When Margga killed Lenny, I healed his wounds and brought him back to life by somehow channeling a form of energy into his body.

Psychometry or Psychoscopy — When I touched Lenny’s dead body, I received information about his wounds and an understanding of how to heal him. Also, when I touched the Roualen spacecraft inside Myers Ridge and concentrated on the object, I received information about its damaged engine and how to fix it.

Psychokinesis or Telekinesis — This is the ability to manipulate matter by the power of thought, which I did to heal Lenny and fix the Roualen ship.

Psychic Abilities I Don’t Have

The following abeyant psychic abilities (in alphabetical order) exist and may appear in me over time. If so, who knows what will happen. Scary!

  • Animal Telepathy—communicating with (but not command or influence) various kinds of creatures. Think “pet psychic.”
  • Apportation—materializing, vanishing or teleporting an object.
  • Aura Reading—seeing the energy fields that emanate from people, places and things.
  • Automatic Writing—producing written words without conscious thought, or through the guidance of an outside intelligence.
  • Bilocation or Multilocation—physically being in multiple places at the same time.
  • Channeling—acting as a channel or vessel for an outside intelligence.
  • Clairaudience—hearing from a long distance any sound that would otherwise be inaudible.
  • Clairsentience—perceiving and understanding—“knowing”—of a hidden or forgotten fact.
  • Death-Warning—envisioning a living person before his or her death.
  • Dowsing—locating water or lost objects by using a rod, sticks, or pendulum. Also known as “water witching.”
  • Empathy—sensing the needs, drives, and emotions of another.
  • Intuition—attaining direct knowledge or cognition without rational thought or inference.
  • Levitation—bodily hovering above the ground.
  • Psychic Surgery—using one’s mind to remove diseased body tissue via an incision that heals immediately afterwards.
  • Psychometry or Object Reading—sensing psychic impressions (vibrations) left on an object by someone connected with it. Someone with this ability could use an unfamiliar object to reveal much about its owner.
  • Pyrokinesis—starting fires and manipulating them with one’s mind.
  • Remote Viewing—describing or giving details about a person, place or thing that is inaccessible to normal senses due to distance or time.
  • Scrying—looking into reflective, translucent, or luminescent substances such as crystals, stones, glass, mirrors, water, fire, or smoke, and seeing events at a distance and/or in the future.

Developing Characters and Story, Part 3

September 28, 2016
Steve Campbell

My Friends and Neighbors on Myers Ridge (So Far), by Vree Erickson

Leonard “Lenny” Stevens

Lenny is my age—15, born July 5, a day that was known as Margga’s Curse because of a witch’s spirit that tried to kill his family on that day every year. Lenny works helping my maternal grandfather Jack Lybrook fix up the old farmhouse that Grandpa bought from Lenny’s dad. The house used to belong to Margga when she was alive. Lenny’s paternal grandparents bought it after she was killed by the Council of Magic.

Lenny is handsome, with dreamy dark brown (chocolate) eyes, thick, burnt sienna hair, and is 5’ 7” tall and says he weighs 130 pounds. He lives up the road with his dad and 2 of his 3 sisters.

He has toys and childhood treasures hidden beneath the floorboards of the attic that is now the bedroom I share with Amy. Also hidden in the floor was a large book with a dusty black, hard leather cover and pages askew that I call Margga’s Book of Spells and Other Magic. It’s an old, oversized log book that has no title and is filled with numbers and strange figures, like secret code, which are predictions written as poems, spells written as songs, and some strange recipes that I’m sure no one would want to eat. I’m the only one who can read the book, when it reveals itself to me. When it doesn’t, the pages are blank.

Lenny knows a lot about the weird history here, like the white crow Enit Huw who can speak to us. Lenny’s paternal grandmother told him that Enit Huw is the soul of time—past, present, and future, and brings hope for healing and new beginnings in life. Lenny used one of Enit Huw’s tail feathers for its magic power to release me from Margga’s imprisonment spell when she tried to steal my psychic energy. He also wears around his neck a good luck pendant of a gold cross that his grandmother gave him. He believes in all kinds of good luck charms—he gave my family and me flint arrowheads as protection from evil spirits the day Margga tried to kill him.

Lenny and I are spiritually close to each other by a psychic connection. Once, he touched my forehead and connected to my dreams. When Margga killed him, I brought him back, which strengthened our connection and gave him some of my psychic abilities, albeit weaker than mine. The connection remains and allows him to psychically communicate with me—he often visits me in my dreams without physically touching me like he did before. Now, if we touch or we’re in close proximity for more than 5 minutes, our bodies glow with white light. The longer we’re together, the stronger the light becomes and we feel heat envelop us until it gets too hot to bear. We usually have to distance ourselves by 10 feet or more after 20 minutes.

Howard Stevens

Howard is Lenny’s 45-year-old widowed father. Howard is 5’ 10” tall, has dark brown hair graying around the temples, and brown, almost hazel eyes.

He is a wildlife artist and the high school art teacher at Ridgewood High. His spouse Rebecca “Becca” Stevens née Crawford of New Cambridge is deceased. Besides Lenny, his children are Lynelle, 20; Lindsey, 9; and Leanne, 7. Lynelle owns and runs Becca’s Diner (once owned by Howard’s wife) located at Alice Lake—his youngest daughters and Lenny bus tables and wash dishes there on weeknights and weekends; he and Lynelle prepare the food at the restaurant.

Howard and his three youngest children live up the road from us at the next house across the road. His parents once owned the house my maternal grandfather bought from him. Howard still owns his family’s property next door to us where I fought Margga and where she imprisoned my father’s spirit. That creepy property belonged to Howard’s maternal grandparents Reginald and Cathleen Myers and gives me the chills when I get near it, probably because of its bloody history. According to what I’ve been told, Howard’s grandfather accidentally shot and killed Margga’s father while hunting in the woods behind the house. Then she killed him and his wife and spellbound their spirits to Myers Ridge. She was sentenced by the Council of Magic at Myers Ridge to a 1,000-year incarceration, but she escaped, stole a valuable spell book from the Council (the one I now have), and used a powerful spell from its pages to create a plague that drained 90% of magic from all creatures within a thousand-mile radius of Myers Ridge—including members of the Council. A protection spell she put on herself saved her from the plague. The Council called for and obtained enough magic to capture her. They stripped her of her protection spell and added to her incarceration, but were unable to lift the spell on Howard’s grandparents. She was killed during another escape attempt. Her spirit, under the powers of spirit law, was bound to serve imprisonment in Tartarus (an abyss reserved for evildoers below the underworld Hades where the Greek mythology Titans were imprisoned), and sentenced to return annually to the scene of her crime until forgiven by Howard’s grandparents. She refused and haunted Howard’s family for years. The Council never recovered the spell book hidden inside her house where a young Lenny Stevens found it after Howard’s mother bought the house. He relocated the book to another hiding place (beneath the attic floor) and later gave the book to me the day I moved in. Having it has been a blessing and a curse.

Rebecca “Becca” Stevens

Becca is Lenny’s deceased mother; she was 36 when she died 5 years ago. She owned and operated Becca’s, a restaurant located at Alice Lake. Her oldest daughter Lynelle owns and runs the restaurant now. Besides a fondness for cooking and baking, Becca was an avid hunter who enjoyed the outdoors. Her parents own a hunting camp in the northeast woods of New Cambridge, not far from where she was born and raised.

From the photographs I have seen of her, she was a plump woman similar in size to my maternal grandmother Evelyn Lybrook. Becca had intense ice blue eyes and brown hair. In some pictures, her hair is long and straight like mine, and in others it’s short like Grandma’s and Mom’s hair.

Although I’ve never told anyone, I think I met her ghost.

According to Lenny and his family, Becca was killed 5 years ago on July 5 (Margga’s curse and Lenny’s birthday) between 9 and 9:30pm, right at sunset when a car struck her along the road she lived on while she changed a flat tire on her car. I had a psychic vision of the event. Becca heard dogs howling and saw a Rottweiler (probably one of Margga’s hellhounds) in the road before she died. In the vision, she wore a yellow blouse, navy blue skirt, and black hose and high heels for a birthday party planned for Lenny.

Not long after I had the vision, I met a woman like her who wore the same clothes. She was at a pond I went to when I ran away from my grandparents’ place; she was extremely excited about finding a hunting knife on the ground there, and she warned me to stay away from Margga.

Lindsey and Leanne Stevens

Lindsey is 9 and Leanne is 7; they have straight and shoulder-length brown hair. Lindsey has brown eyes and likes to hunt and fish with Lenny; Leanne has bright blue eyes and likes drawing and painting, like her dad and Lenny … and me. That’s all I know so far.

Lynelle Stevens

Lynelle is 20; she has blue eyes, long auburn hair that is always tied in a ponytail when I see her, and is slim with a nice figure, and stands around 5’ 9” or 5’ 10” tall. Her boyfriend Henry James is adjunct history professor at New Cambridge University who, according to Lenny, receives lower pay than tenured professors and no health benefits, which makes him attractive to Lynelle’s caring personality—“All her life, she has taken in unfortunate stray animals … and Henry is no exception.”

Lynelle owns and runs her mom’s restaurant called Becca’s, located at 79 East Main Street, Alice Lake. Her brother Lenny and her two younger sisters Lindsey and Leanne often bus tables and wash dishes while she and their dad prepare the food. Months before her death, Becca turned the restaurant’s foyer into a gift shop where Howard Stevens sells some of his artwork, which are mostly wildlife and landscape paintings. Double doors behind the counter and cash register in the foyer/gift shop lead to the kitchen where Lynelle and Howard and a 40-year-old cook named Juanita Richards do a lot of the food preparation. During business hours of 6-9am, 11am-2pm, and 5-9pm, Lynelle greets customers in the foyer/gift shop and takes them to their tables in the dining room. An unmarked wooden door between the restrooms in the gift shop leads to oak stairs and Lynelle’s apartment upstairs. This is Lenny’s favorite place to go to, so we’ve spent plenty of time watching TV here. The first room inside the entrance is the living room where white shag carpet matches most of the furniture there, including a plush cream sofa. A glass coffee table sits in front of the sofa that faces a giant flat screen TV attached to the wall. A bookcase sits across the room next to the door that enters the kitchen; a clay urn made by Henry sits on the bookcase. A computer desk with Lynelle’s laptop sits in the corner. A cream-yellow kitchen sits off the living room (the entrance is next to the bookcase); lots of glassware and a glass table are in the kitchen—glass figurines sit atop a five-foot tall refrigerator. Plush cream carpets, plush furniture, cream-colored drapes, animal and pastoral prints and paintings on white walls make up the rest of the apartment’s décor. Lynelle’s 2 boxy bedrooms and narrow bathroom with bathtub and shower are behind the living room. The place is in a residential business community—small stores and shops, a tiny post office, a bank and a savings and loan, and a small fire station. Law enforcement is maintained by Ridgewood’s small police department. East Main Street is a quintessential picturesque street of small, independent, family-owned business and stores that still thrive in America. The long, wide street is lined with Hawthorne, Linden, and Flowering Cherry trees in plots along wide sidewalks on both sides of the street, which is near Alice Lake and runs north and south along the lake’s east side. I love visiting the lake and seeing the neighborhoods of quaint houses and cottages every chance I get. I think this would be a nice place to live at—much nicer than creepy Myers Ridge and its scary sinkholes.

Henry James

Henry is 30, an adjunct history professor at New Cambridge University, and Lynelle Stevens’s on-again off-again potbellied (beer gut?) boyfriend who has a whiskered face—the beginnings of a goatee. He is shorter than Lynelle at around 5’ 7” in bare feet, though he always wears cowboy boots with big heels. He has short, dark brown hair, brown eyes, and wears blue jeans and T-shirts a lot, and pointed-toe cowboy boots with heels that clomp on wood floors and stairs—heels that add nearly two inches of height but still keep him shorter than Lynelle. He drives a silver, turbocharged Ford F-150 full size pickup truck he calls Mama, and he knows a lot about Ridgewood’s history and folklore, especially supernatural stuff.

Developing Characters and Story, Part 2

September 28, 2016
Steve Campbell

The Magic in Me, by Vree Erickson

My Family Tree

Joseph and Hendrika Groot (my maternal great-great-great-great-great-grandparents); begat 2 children. Their daughter Mina Groot (my great-great-great-great-grandmother), married Baltisar Andersson; they begat 7 children. Their daughter Ruth Andersson (my great-great-great-grandmother), married Jonathan Kaufmann; they begat 2 sons. Their youngest son Joseph Kaufmann (my great-great-grandfather), married Helen Baker; they begat 5 daughters. Their daughter Adali Kaufmann (my great-grandmother), married  James Doyle; they begat 4 children. Their daughter Evelyn Doyle (my grandmother) and Trevor Renfrew begat 1 child: son, Balen Renfrew. Evelyn Doyle then married Jonathan “Jack” Lybrook; they begat 1 child: daughter, Karrie. Karrie Lybrook, (my mother), married Charles Erickson; they begat 3 children (triplets). I am the youngest of the triplets.

Evelyn Doyle’s Siblings

  • Vera, married to Kurt Ziegler, Blooming Valley PA; 3 children: John Luke, Mary, and James
  • Matthew, married Roxanne Stills, Brookside PA; no children
  • Sara, married to Nathan Davies, Bakers View PA; 4 children: Jean, Carla, William, and Pamela

Jack Lybrook’s Siblings

  • Paul, married Elaine May, New Cambridge PA; 2 children: Erin and Kay
  • Janet, married to Ronald Baker, New Cambridge PA; 2 children: Debra and Anne
  • Jerry, married Diane Marrs, Albany NY; 3 children: Brianne, Donna, and Gail

Charles Erickson’s Parents

Reginald Erickson, married Rachel McGuire, Wheeling WV, retired; winters St. Petersburg FL; they have 3 children: Leanne, Cincinnati OH; Alexis, Laramie WY; and Charles, deceased.

Charles Erickson’s Siblings

  • Leanne, married to Paul Watson, Cincinnati OH; 4 children: Sara, Joel, Thomas, and Holly
  • Alexis, married to Justin Roth, Laramie WY; 5 children: Michelle, Nichole, Ryan, Jessica, and Crystal

My Family Line of Psychics

My relations with known psychic/magic abilities are listed in bold.

Josef and Hendrika Groot had 2 children: Rutger Groot and Mina Groot;

Mina Groot, whom at 13, married: Baltasar Andersson, 16, (139 years ago), had 7 children, of which daughter

Ruth Andersson, whom at 17, married Jonathan Kaufmann (112 years ago), had 2 sons, of which son

Joseph Kaufmann, whom at 23, married Helen Baker (87 years ago), had 5 daughters, of which daughter

Adali Kaufmann, whom at 19, married James Doyle (68 years ago), had 4 children, of which daughter

Evelyn Doyle, whom at 19, had 1 son with wizard Trevor Renfrew (45 years ago), of which son

Balen Renfrew is half mortal, half wizard & has limited magic;

Evelyn Doyle, whom at 27, married Jonathan Lybrook (37 years ago), had 1 child, of which daughter

Karrie Lybrook, whom at 21, married Charles Erickson (16 years ago), had 3 children, of which daughter

Verawenda Erickson, struck by lightning at 15, has psychic/magic ability.

Mina Andersson and her husband Baltasar had seven children. They lived in Ridgewood and were influential members of the community before Baltasar killed a man and went to prison. After their youngest child was old enough, Mina left home for a nunnery. She stayed there until her death. Mina had telepathic powers. She foretold her husband’s act of murder, along with other prophesies, including the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the sinking of the Titanic. Her daughter Ruth could also see future events. Ruth’s son Walter was a vaudeville magician who could move objects with his mind. His brother Joseph claimed to see and speak to spirits. Psychic abilities in my family stopped with Walter and Joseph until lightning triggered it in Grandma Evelyn.

Timeline, From Josef Groot to Me

  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather Josef Groot, b. 173 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Mina Andersson née Groot, b. 152 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Great-Great-Grandmother Ruth Kaufmann née Andersson, b. 129 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Great-Grandfather Joseph Kaufmann, b. 110 years ago, deceased;
  • Great-Grandmother Adali Doyle née Kaufmann, b. 87 years ago, alive, lives at Alice Lake’s Lakeview Living Center;
  • Grandmother Evelyn Lybrook née Doyle, b. 64 years ago, alive, lives at weird farmhouse on Myers Ridge;
  • Mother Karrie Erickson née Lybrook, b. 37 years ago, alive, lives with Grandma on Myers Ridge;
  • Me, Vree Erickson, b. 15 years ago, still alive, I live with Mom at Grandma’s weird farmhouse on Myers Ridge.

Developing Characters and Story, Part 1

September 22, 2016
Steve Campbell

Sketches and Anecdotes About Me, by Vree Erickson

My Origins and Family

My name is Verawenda Renée Erickson. I have straight, shoulder length blonde hair that I usually part in the middle. Mom won’t let me get a pixie cut like hers, though I’d really like short hair so it’d be easier to dry when I’m in a hurry to be somewhere. Maybe some tease and curls added to the shortness … and dye it auburn like hers and Amy’s hair color. My eyes are listed on my birth announcement and student identification as green, but are actually blue-green and gray with amber flecks in them. Some days they are bluer, some days greener—the blue stands out if I wear white clothing, and the green stands out if I wear dark clothing. I am 5’ 4” tall and weigh around 95-100 pounds.

My nickname Vree comes from my initials VRE. My name is a combination of Vera and Wenda. I was named after my mother’s paternal grandmother Vera Lybrook and maternal grandmother Wenda Walsh. My middle name Renée is my maternal grandmother’s middle name.

According to my mom and 3 birth certificates, I’m the youngest of triplets born 15 years ago at St. Clair Hospital by natural childbirth to Charles and Karrie Erickson. My brother David is the oldest and older than me by less than an hour, followed by my sister Amy. Dave and Amy were born before midnight, June 18; I was born 9 minutes after midnight, June 19. Though my parents always celebrated my birthday on June 18, Dave reminded me last year of my real birth date, as if I were committing a crime celebrating my birthday early. So, to make peace with him, I chose to gain some independence by celebrating my birthday on its proper day this year. That proved disastrous when lightning struck me, my father, and our home in Upper St. Clair PA. I awoke from a coma to discover I had developed telepathic powers and that the lightning had killed my dad and burned down our home.

I sometimes have difficulty remembering past events, which started after I awoke from the coma. When I’m tired or really stressed, it’s difficult for me to know if I’m remembering real events, dreams, or plots from TV shows, movies, or books.

Another thing that began after waking from the coma is my body emits white light when I’m anxious or excited. The white crow Enit Huw calls me a Luminary. The book of magic that Lenny Stevens gave me over the summer mentions the word and uses it to describe powerful sorcerers/magicians whose bodies produce light.

Overall, 15 is an awkward age, especially when you feel like you’re responsible for your dad’s death and the loss of your home and most of your possessions. Then your mom moves you to her old childhood hometown and now you have to make new friends and go to a new school. And along with all that, you find out you can see and hear and do paranormal things that most other people cannot, while your body goes through physical changes that make you look less like a teenager and more like a woman. Too many boys—men too—look at you with lust in their eyes. And alcohol, drugs and sex are things to be afraid because they can really screw up your life. So you think about the past when you were innocent of the bad things in life, and dream of a future where everything turns out right.

Dad – My father, Charles Maxwell Erickson, was born 41 years ago on May 11 in Wheeling WV where he lived with his parents, attorney Reginald Keith Erickson (now 70, retired) and school teacher Rachel Louise (McGuire) Erickson (now 67, retired) and older siblings, Leanne Louise Erickson (now 45, graphic designer, married and lives in Cincinnati OH with husband Paul Watson and family) and Alexis Michelle Erickson (now 43, kindergarten teacher, married and lives in Laramie WY with husband Justin Roth and family).

Dad graduated from Wheeling Park High School at age 18 and then from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law (Pitt Law) at age 22. He met my mom at college and married her when he was 25. They lived in Upper St. Clair where he was a lawyer. He died June 19 this year (my 15th birthday) when lightning struck him while he put away his lawnmower that I left in the rain.

He was tall (6’ 3”) and had blonde hair and blue eyes.

Mom – Karrie Renee Lybrook was born 37 years ago on November 19 in Ridgewood PA, the only child [1] of her dairy farmer parents Jonathan “Jack” Edward Lybrook (now 66) and school bus driver/substitute teacher Evelyn “Evie” Renee (Doyle) Lybrook (now 64) on Myers Ridge. She lived a childhood of milking cows, baling hay and harvesting crops when she was home. At high school, she was a 4-year cheerleader for the football team.

[1] (See Balen Renfrew below.)

Mom graduated Ridgewood High School at age 17 and moved to Pittsburgh where she attended and graduated at age 21 from University of Pittsburgh School of Education, receiving her teaching degree in secondary education. She lived with her Aunt Helen (Pittsburgh schoolteacher) and Uncle Ken McCormick (news editor) while attending college, met my dad Charles Erickson while at college, and married him in a July ceremony in Pittsburgh after a whirlwind relationship. They lived in Upper St. Clair where Mom taught school for 16 years until lightning killed Dad and burned down our home.

Mom is 5’ 4” tall, has thick auburn hair worn in a stylish pixie cut, and green eyes that never look blue like mine do. She drives a silver-colored Kia Sorento SUV that has a transmission that rattles and an AC that stops working during long drives. She was hired to be the seventh grade science teacher at Ridgewood High School when the school year starts.

Brother – David Charles Erickson was born at 11:46pm on June 18. He has hazel eyes, is 5’ 11” tall and lean like Dad was, and has blonde hair kept short in an Ivy League crew cut—a style worn by Dad most of his life, except that one time when he was a law student at the University of Pittsburgh—an incident Mom refers to as The Lost Bet of Haircuts.

Dave is sports active, outdoorsy and loves playing football, basketball, and baseball. He enjoys bicycling and riding motorcycles and 4-wheelers. He is mechanically inclined and is handy at fixing small engines, which has endeared him to Grandpa Jack Lybrook. Since he is the only boy in the family, he seeks out other boys with similar interests.

Sister – Amy Louise Erickson was born at 11:57pm on June 18. She is 5’ 5” tall, has brown eyes, and straight, shoulder-length auburn hair. She is musically inclined and likes to write and play songs on Grandma Evelyn’s piano and on her own Gibson acoustic guitar. She sings with a beautiful soprano voice. She had a trio “rock band” in Upper St. Clair (Pittsburgh) called The Amys (all the girls were named Amy—she and Amy Schweitzer are best friends, but the move has changed their relationship to an online one when she can go somewhere that has a working internet/wi-fi service).

Maternal Grandfather – My grandfather Jonathan “Jack” Edward Lybrook is 66 years old, tall and thin at 6’ 2”, has bushy but well-groomed gray hair, frowning brown eyebrows, serious looking brown eyes, and an upturned nose above a pinched mouth on a clean-shaven face.

Grandpa often wears brown coveralls and spends a lot of time mowing the yard and fixing things in the 2-car garage at his newly purchased foursquare farmhouse on Myers Ridge at 31619 Ridge Road, Ridgewood PA, built around 1890 by sheepherder and farmer Ludwik Dekownik, grandfather of Margga Dekownik, a witch who created havoc on Myers Ridge for too many years. The house is white trimmed in blue and has a long, stone paved driveway on the right that leads to the garage painted to match the house. Inside are 4 boxy rooms on the ground floor: the living and dining rooms have wall-to-wall plush cream carpets, plush furniture, velvety drapes, animal and pastoral prints and paintings on white walls, a glass chandelier in the dining room, and a large kitchen next to a laundry room and a small bathroom. Upstairs are 4 more boxy rooms: 3 bedrooms, including the master bedroom where Grandma and Grandpa sleep, and a large bathroom. The attic is now a bedroom where my sister Amy and I sleep. Downstairs in the basement, the low ceiling with copper pipes everywhere make going there a headache for anyone who is taller than 5’ 10” and forgets to duck their head. Still, Grandma and Grandpa keep it clean, the lighting is adequate, and the cement floor has good drainage, so it’s good place for storage.

Grandpa grew up in nearby New Cambridge where his father and his brother Paul and sister Janet Baker live. His brother Jerry lives in Albany NY with his wife Alice and family. His mother is deceased and his 91-year-old father lives at New Cambridge Retirement and Health Center, a senior care home.

Grandpa had to move from his dairy farm on the other end of Myers Ridge because the ground has collapsed, creating a large sinkhole in the cornfield next to the house. The sinkhole emits a strange buzzing sound that only Enit Huw (the white crow) and I can hear. I thought the sound came from generators pumping gas to keep alive the Roualens (travelers from another planet residing there), but they left with their machinery and the buzzing continues. The sinkhole also emits green light caused by crystals glowing underground. I think the buzzing and light are connected and needs to be investigated.

Overall, Myers Ridge is old farmland with few farms in operation—where farming is almost a vanished way of life. Second growth woods surround the house, and are quiet and peaceful now that the Roualens have left, flying back to their own planet, and Margga’s spirit isn’t around anymore. This is country life where lawnmowers are large, tractors are used to plow fields and harvest crops, barbeques and lemonade are part of backyard activity, as well as gardening small flower and vegetable plots, swimming in aboveground pools, camping, hiking in woods, and riding horses in summer. In winter, there is deer hunting, plowing and shoveling snow, sled riding, and snowmobiles.

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Redoing “Night of the Hellhounds” (Part 3)

September 21, 2016
Steve Campbell

Chapter 3: Vree’s Comeback

Not long after I published 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 Hellhounds” 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, as part of The Green Crystal Stories. You can read it by clicking here, or continue scrolling.

Without further delay, I present teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson, their encounter with ghosts and demons, and their 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 fl