After I graduated eighth grade, I spent the summer discovering the ups and downs of playing baseball. I shared this passion in a story where I meet Dave’s twin sister, Amy.
Amy had blue eyes; brown hair worn long past her shoulders and sometimes in a ponytail; never grew taller than 5’ 5”; and loved to swim. Her complexion paled in winter and tanned deeply in summer. She wore blue jeans or shorts to school, along with T-shirts—her favorite shirt during eighth and ninth grades had ROCKER CHICKS RULE on it. (She would become the founder and lead singer of ARC, a high school garage band she put together in ninth grade. She possessed a good singing voice as well as the ability to play guitar like a virtuoso.) Her wardrobe also consisted of leggings, lacy blouses, tennis shoes, clogs, sandals and flip-flops.
Her personality among friends was warm, loving, gentle and charming most of the time. Generally an easygoing person, Amy was slow to anger, but once roused was known for a ferocious temper—she was very difficult to deal with when angry, which was usually set off by jealousy due to her possessive nature.
Growing up as the solitary daughter was sometimes unfair for Amy. Among her chores, she was expected to do housework after school and on weekends, and to even cook evening meals when her mother was late getting home. And there were times when Dave, the only son (who self-righteously acquired the title of “heir to the family” and so believed at times he was “more important” than Amy), expected his sister to obey him and take care of him.
Amy was funnier, more gregarious, and more musically talented than Dave, making her stand out and seem like “the favorite child” to both parents. Often, she was sweetness and light to everyone else, but the Devil to Dave.
Dave, who was the less musically talented child, resented the admiration Amy received, and viewed it as favoritism. And Amy viewed Dave’s feats in baseball and his published articles and stories as favoritism. Cue sibling rivalry, and lots of it.
Strangely, however, Dave seldom resented his sister beyond her musical talents. In fact, he “defended her honor” more ferociously than his own. Any potential boyfriends were in for a hard time, which he proudly stated to Lenny and me throughout our high school years, and which caused Lenny and Amy to have a secret romance together. This happened after Lenny improved his self-esteem, which began after he rescued Laurie Burnett. His identity about himself improved further when he spent the summer playing softball with his church’s youth team and lost weight. He looked stronger in his arms and shoulders, too, and that’s how I saw him one July Sunday afternoon in 1971 playing a softball game sponsored by his church’s youth league. He played first base for The New Gospel Church; they wore blue shirts and caps with NG sewn on them—white on the caps and solid blue on the shirts. The opposing team, The Nazarenes, wore red shirts and caps. And all the players wore blue jeans and tennis shoes.
There was no scoreboard anywhere, but as the story’s author I knew it was bottom of the seventh inning and New Gospel’s last chance to come from behind a five to four score.
Meeting Amy Evans
I seated myself at the top row of the bleachers behind home plate and a few feet to the left of Amy Evans, a very pretty girl. She had light brown hair tied up in ponies on either side of her full moon face, and she clapped her hands while she cheered for Lenny’s team.
“Who’s winning?” I asked her kindly.
Dave’s twin sister stopped cheering and addressed me with a cool look.
“Bottom of the seventh,” she said. “Nazarenes are up five to four.”
I thanked her and began cheering for Lenny’s team. I knew New Gospel would win. And I knew how, since I was the omniscient author. Or so I thought.
Dave began the final half-inning by fouling a pitch from the Nazarene Church’s ace pitcher, Johnny Blake. Blake had been throwing change-ups and heated fisticuff strikes all game long. I admired his determination to win, but it was Dave’s determination I admired more. Like most of Lenny’s team that day, Dave had gone hitless against Blake’s fastball.
Dave fouled the second pitch, which cleared the backstop and practically landed in my lap. I gave the ball to Amy.
“For you, mademoiselle,” I said when I handed it to her.
She screwed up her nose, threw the ball back onto the field, and slid away from me, putting several feet of space between us.
Lenny’s team was animated inside the dugout at the first base side of the field, all calling for Dave to hit the ball. For a skinny guy, he too had developed broader shoulders and muscular forearms. He had an excellent chance to clout a four bagger and tie the game, which is what I planned to have happen.
But Johnny Blake’s next pitch dropped before it reached home plate. In his excitement to get a hit, Dave swung the kind of windmill swing that embarrasses even the professional ballplayers, and missed by the proverbial baseball mile. The ball scooted under the catcher and zipped straight toward the backstop. Dave, aware of his mistake, never hesitated. He raced to first base as the catcher caught up with the ball at the backstop and threw. The speedy Dave Evans beat the throw to first base.
I looked on surprised while at third base, Pastor Wilkins, who was coaching, yelled out a strategic plan to Lenny who headed toward home plate.
“Just make contact, Lenny,” he said.
“If you say so, coach,” Lenny called back.
“Trying for the long ball,” the third baseman yelled. “Throw him the heat.”
The shortstop laughed and pounded at his glove.
Lenny had never been a good hitter. But I wanted him to get lucky, hit a homerun, and become a hero for a day.
It didn’t happen.
He hit the first pitch—wham, bam—right into the third baseman’s glove. In a matter of a second he had lined out.
The next batter grounded into a double play: 6 to 4 to 3. The the teams met at home plate in a game ending ritual of slapping hands and saying “Good game.” I looked over at Amy who had stood and prepared to leave, and quickly introduced myself.
She scowled at my outstretched hand and said, “Please go away and leave me alone.”
I wasn’t expecting her cutting dismissal, so I kept grinning at her and wanting to tell her I wasn’t hitting on her, even after she did a quick about-face and practically sprinted down the bleachers.
“Pleasure to meet you, anyway,” I said to her fleeing backside. Then, moments later, I, too, headed down the bleachers.
Back in my bedroom and with my notebook of story notes, my mind whirled with questions as to why I hadn’t controlled the story events. I had spent an entire school year of English classes learning to visit Ridgewood with a plan of action via a script of scribbled notes. But like the horse fly that had bit me the day Lenny rescued Laurie, I truly didn’t know what would happen during the story or if the events would occur as planned. No matter how well armed I was, the characters of Ridgewood took on lives of their own until I was a spectator watching their stories unfold. And sometimes they revealed things about themselves that I—their creator—didn’t know.
So, how could I, the author, the creator of this world, control the story’s events if the characters didn’t behave as envisioned? I couldn’t. I could only write a script and hope my characters followed it. But they never did. They were characters born in my dreams. And like my dreams, I never knew how they would turn out. Every encounter when writing about Ridgewood offered a universe of unknown premises. And therein lay the magic for me, the young writer learning the craft of storytelling.
At school, I rewrote the softball game and made Lenny a hero. And Amy and I exchanged witty dialogue as we became friends. But in my heart I knew the rewrite wasn’t true. My eighth grade English teacher, however, insisted that I continue rewriting my stories and developing my characters until I understood their motives, emotions, and all their psychological makeup.
So, I spent as much time with Dave and Amy as I could.
Ridgewood’s Weird History
Even though Amy remained aloof when I visited, she did chip in with information one day when Dave told me about Ridgewood’s strange past of green and yellow lights appearing in 1745, back when the town was called Amity. The lights were seen often at Myers Ridge (then listed in some history books as Haute Colline, and in others as Colline de Miel, which I favor because it means “hill of honey”). Eyewitnesses claimed the lights traveled the neighboring hillsides, too, and always during the darkest nights. Many reports said those lights gathered at midnight over the center of Alice Lake (then called Lac Petit-Miroir, which means “Little Mirror Lake”), then whirled like a “dust devil” for several minutes before they vanished into the lake.
This phenomenon continued for two years until another unexplained event—this one vicious and horrifying—befell Amity on the night of July 7, 1747 when the lights swarmed over the town, hovered in the sky for an hour, then exploded into flame that vanished into thick ash that settled upon the town like tarry soot.
For five days, fever, madness and death seized most of the three-hundred-and-fifty townspeople. Many of the afflicted suffered slow, agonizing deaths. Of the few who lived outside of town and were not afflicted, one was 19-year-old Ezekiel Wood. He recorded a grisly account about a fur trader who murdered his wife and two children while they slept, and then stuffed their corpses inside the belly of a slaughtered cow. Ezekiel also wrote of madmen setting fire to the town. Nearly all the homes destroyed had both dead and living inside. Ezekiel, who was attending the sick, managed to escape the inferno by submerging himself in the local river. He was the only known survivor of the blaze, and he became great-grandfather to Ridgewood founder, Frank Wood.
The lights were never seen again.
Dave and Amy revealed other weird tales over time, which I recorded in my notebooks. Every town has its urban legends and Ridgewood was no exception. They who lived there knew of the fabled cries of help from school kids who were on the unfortunate bus that sank to the bottom of Three Mile Swamp, had heard the stories around campfires about the lunatic with a hook for a hand escaping from the prison at nearby New Cambridge, and knew someone who had seen Norman Myers’s ghost on Myers Ridge. Those Ridgewood legends were classic and townsfolk had told them as far back as when Dave and Amy’s great-grandfather was a boy. Even their father, Parker, had his spooky stories to tell, and he told us several of his ghost sightings while we roasted hotdogs around a campfire behind the Evans house one Halloween night in 1971.