Chapter 1: The Beginning
Those of you who have read my blog since its start in 2011 know I wrote a short story called “The Ghost Dogs” when I was 13 years old and an eighth-grader at my small town high school in northwest Pennsylvania. Until then, I was an avid reader who occasionally wrote stories for class assignments. Things changed when my parents bought me a portable typewriter. How could I not become a writer when I had such a wonderful tool at hand?
The year was 1970. Music was a big deal on TV as well as the radio, so I wrote a short story about a 13-year-old boy who played lead guitar in his high school rock band. From there, a continuing character was born: David Evans. David’s names came from the spooky TV soap opera, Dark Shadows. That show, along with reading Dracula and Eerie and Creepy magazines influenced some of my stories.
I fell in love with creating make-believe worlds the moment I typed my first story. I followed the conventions of storytelling, of course, but I rarely wrote endings to my stories. I wrote cliffhangers so my readers would want to read the next story. Comic books did this, so I did the same. My readers loved it.
I wrote all my stories in first person point of view. At first, Dave was the narrator in his fictional world, which I named Ridgewood. But then I chose to do something novel: write myself into the stories and interact with the characters I created. It made story writing a thrill to do. I loved every minute of it.
Dave and his best friend Leonard Stevens were in the same grade at Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. Lenny’s names were a mix of my own (although Leonard was a stretch of my middle name). His last name would change to Armstrong in 1972, but he was rambunctious Lenny Stevens for two gratifying years of writing young teen adventure stories about Dave and him.
Night of the Hellhounds 1.0: The Ghost Dogs
Faithful readers of this blog may remember that Dave and Lenny were the central characters in “The Ghost Dogs” along with Dave’s twin sister, Amy, and her best friend, Verawenda Erickson. Except for Lenny and me, the others lived on Myers Ridge, a hillside farming community on the western outskirts of Ridgewood. Lenny was a “townie” and I was a visitor from a neighboring city called New Cambridge.
Myers Ridge was well-known by folks in and around Ridgewood for its caves, abandoned mines, a few sinkholes and precipitous hillside, and the occasional sightings of Norman Myers’s ghost. In 1891, Norman Myers found gold on his property atop the ridge. For a decade, he and his family hauled out ores and precious metals and occasionally squabbled over mining rights. Then, according to legend, Norman’s mines dried up ten years later, on the very anniversary of his discovery. Not long afterwards, Norman disappeared and was never seen or heard from again. Some suspected he was murdered by James McCoy, an angry business partner. Soon afterward, family claimed to see Norman’s ghost haunting the hill. They claimed his body lay inside one of his many abandoned mines, and would haunt the land until his body was found and given a proper burial. That never happened, so the ghost sightings continued throughout my high school years.
Another weird occurrence was the sighting of another ghost named Myers: Norman’s son, Benjamin. Ben Myers was a famous playwright who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood during the 1930s. He and his wife Cathleen (whose whole name was Ademia Consuela Ramona Cathleen Savakis) lived in California but summered at their estate on Myers Ridge until one fateful summer when he and his hunting dogs were found frozen inside the house. Cathleen died soon afterwards after either falling or by being pushed from a steep section of Myers Ridge called Widow’s Ravine. In “The Ghost Dogs” Ben’s ghost and those of his dogs haunt the estate grounds next door to Dave and Amy’s house. And Cathleen’s spirit cries from the depths of Widow’s Ravine.
Those spooky occurrences became part of my story’s theme and made it a delight to write. Another delight was developing a bigger role for Verawenda “Vree” Erickson. She got her nickname because of her initials VRE (Renée was her middle name). She lived as an only child with her parents in a farmhouse down the road from Dave and Amy.
It happened that my visits to Ridgewood became weird the Halloween night of 1970 when I sat at my typewriter after supper and went to visit Dave and Lenny. They were behind the barn at Dave’s parent’s place on Myers Ridge, roasting hot dogs on a stick at a fire that failed to advance any warmth when I stood next to it. Dave’s A-frame tent was still set up behind him and Lenny from our September get-togethers, and Dave’s twin sister Amy had her own A-frame tent behind her. Sitting next to her was Vree. My heart pattered while I stared at Vree’s long dirty-blonde hair looking golden in the firelight. She and Amy sat cross-legged on the other side of the fire, whispering and giggling. When Amy saw me, she patted her sleeping bag and told me to sit next to her. I did, sandwiching myself between the two girls and snuggling under Amy’s blue blanket, which she draped over our shoulders. I quickly warmed, all the while smelling hot dogs and wood smoke and perfume that smelled like oranges.
We all wore sweatshirts and jackets and Vree had on white furry mittens that seemed to make her all the more beautiful. I said hello to her and she nodded and smiled and remained silent while Amy controlled the conversation about a teacher she didn’t like. When she finished, I opened my mouth to make small talk with Vree, but never got a word out when Dave interrupted.
“I’m glad you’re here,” he said from across the fire. “Take a look at the old Myers place and tell me what you see.”
I had to turn around since the old, burnt shell of Myers Mansion languished inside a thicket of property below the side yard behind me. The place was barely visible in the darkness. No moonlight broke the cloud cover above us, so I squinted to see the spooky remnants of the Myers house destroyed by fire years ago.
“What am I supposed to see?” I said. I knew that the once prominent house had been built ninety years ago by a famous Broadway playwright named Benjamin Myers who became even more popular writing blockbuster screenplays for Hollywood, before he disappeared.
“Dave thought he saw ghosts,” Amy said. She gave me her whittled stick and a hot dog to roast. “Always with the ghosts.”
I looked again at where a grand house had once stood, excited about this new turn of events. “You saw ghosts?”
“Apparitions of some dogs, actually,” Lenny said, grinning wide. “But ghosts all the same.”
“That’s right,” Dave said. “Three of them as plain as day. Then they vanished when I told the girls. But Lenny and I saw them again right before you came.”
“You saw ghost dogs?” I asked.
Although I had created this world, there was much about it I was still inventing and developing. Every visit was a discovery that got added to my notes.
“Myers bred hunting dogs,” Lenny said between large bites taken from a roasted hotdog. “Then one hot summer day he and his dogs froze to death inside the house.”
Amy groaned. “I can’t believe you think that silly legend really happened.”
“What legend is that?” I asked her.
She sighed and was reluctant to talk about it. Dave began to tell me when she interrupted him.
“It’s a dumb story that says the county sheriff found Myers and his nine hunting dogs frozen inside the house. I checked the town’s newspaper archives when I did an English paper about Ben Myers. There was no mention of anyone or anything frozen inside the house when he and his wife Cathleen disappeared.”
“You probably didn’t research hard enough,” Dave said.
Amy glared at him. “I researched it just fine. I even found their obituaries at the library. The police concluded that they died in a plane crash during a trip to the Caribbean.”
Dave shrugged his thin shoulders. “I read those obituaries, too. The authorities never knew for certain what happened because Myers and his wife always flew using pseudonyms. And no bodies were ever found at sea after the plane crash, so it could’ve been anybody on that plane. Which means there’s no proof that old man Myers and his dogs didn’t freeze to death.”
Amy groaned again. “It makes more sense than believing that they did, or that his wife jumped to her death at the bottom of Widow’s Ravine.”
I glanced at where an empty stream bed separated the two properties. A half-mile away the stream bed ended at a steep-sided ravine called Widow’s Ravine. I knew all about the local legend of Cathleen Myers either being pushed or committing suicide by leaping into the ravine after she found her husband frozen to death. Now her screams could sometimes be heard as her ghost relived the suicide and plunged into the ravine.
“For the record, none of us have ever heard anyone screaming from Widow’s Ravine,” Amy concluded. “Nor have we ever seen any ghosts.” She popped a peppermint Life Saver candy into her mouth and offered Vree and me some. I politely declined. I enjoy smelling it but dislike eating anything peppermint.
Dave swallowed the last of his hotdog and said, “our cousin Ricky says Alan Baker was driving up here one night during the summer when he saw a pack of wild-looking dogs on the Myers property. When he aimed a flashlight at them, they vanished. Then, as he was driving away, he felt the weight of invisible animals jumping on the hood of his truck. He hurried home and discovered that something had scratched the truck’s paint and dented the hood.”
Amy shook her head and said, “I wouldn’t believe anything Alan Baker says.”
“I’m just saying what Ricky told me, is all.” Dave twisted sideways, pulled an acoustic guitar from his tent, and began strumming some chords. Soon, he was singing softly a song I had never heard. I cooked my hotdog and ate it without a bun or any dressing, just the way I like them, and snuck glances at quiet Vree sky gazing. I looked up and wondered what she saw there among the clouds and patches of stars.
A stick snapped behind Amy’s tent. I turned partway to the left and saw the dark shape of a human figure step around the tent and into our midst.
“Excuse me,” Dave said, almost shouting, which drew our attention to him. “This is private land.”
Fiery hues of the campfire revealed a stunning woman. Flame glinted from her long black hair, her bronze face, and her 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 ample breasts. Tall and curvy, she looked at us with mesmerizing and penetrating eyes—blacker than either her hair or dress or the rubies set in the gold rings she wore on eight fingers and two thumbs.
I felt uneasy about the stranger. She was nobody that I had created in my character sketches, so I wondered what my subconscious was up to.
“This parcel of land is owned by Margaret Evans,” the woman replied as she strolled to stand next to the fire.
“That’s right,” Dave said, glancing at Amy. “She’s our grandmother. Our house used to belong to her.”
“Yes, I know of your family, David,” she said to him. “And Amy.” She smiled and looked kindly at Amy, beaming those mysterious charcoal eyes. Then she looked at me and lingered with a puzzled, yet bewitching gaze.
I held her gaze until Dave asked, “So how can we help you, lady?”
The woman’s gaze shifted back to him. “May I sit for a few minutes? The journey here has tired me.”
“I suppose so,” Dave said, though he frowned and looked dubious.
We watched the woman sit 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. Then her gaze shifted back at me.
“You I don’t know,” she said.
“My name’s Steve,” I said.
“Do you and your family live nearby?”
“I’m from New Cambridge,” I lied. “I visit here when my mom comes to visit my aunt.”
“And who is your aunt?”
“She lives at the bottom of Russell Road.”
“Yes. She bought the place that sits back near the woods.”
“Yes, she did,” I said, trying to sound put off. Secretly, I enjoyed annoying her by not reveling much about me.
Her hard gaze shifted to Vree, then softened for a moment. I saw a flicker of sadness as she looked away and spoke to Dave again.
“I am Ademia Consuela Ramona Cathleen Savakis. I have been called these names and more.” She looked at Lenny. “And why do you mistake me for a gypsy witch?”
Lenny stiffened and began stuttering a reply. Ademia put a finger to her lips. Lenny hushed and she continued.
“I suppose I do look like a gypsy. My mother was Brazilian, my father Greek. But I am no gypsy by any means.” She paused and looked thoughtful. Then she glanced to her right, down at the burnt remains of the old mansion and said rather sadly, “I must go now.”
She stood as easily and gracefully as she had sat.
“I wish you all a pleasant night,” she said, turning and heading back into the darkness toward the Myers property.
We were silent until the night made her invisible.
“Man, that was one weird woman,” Dave said.
“She had no shoes on her feet,” Amy said. “And on a cold night like tonight.”
“It’s really cold,” Vree said, as though she had just noticed. “Feels like it might snow.” She shivered and tightened the blanket around us.
“Hey, Steve, how about throwing some more wood on the fire,” Dave said as he put away his guitar. Then he stood. “I have to see a man about a horse.”
“Cute,” Amy said. “Water some weeds for me while you’re at it.”
A grasp of icy air latched onto me and left me shivering when I stood and stepped away from the fire. I followed Dave toward the woodpile at the far side of the barn when he turned around and looked past me. Then he hurried to my side, turned me around and pointed down at the Myers property.
“Ghost,” he said with a voice that was barely audible. Then it rose as he said, “I see him. It’s Ben Myers’s ghost!”
I turned in time to see the glowing apparition of a man in a white shirt and dark pants walk through the Myers house’s burnt remains. The apparition looked as real and solid as the two of us standing and peering down from the hilltop. Then the ghostly image wavered and disappeared.
“Tell me you saw that,” Dave shouted at Lenny.
“Saw what?” Lenny asked. He looked startled.
“Ben Myers’s ghost,” Dave said. “It was just there. Just like the dogs we saw earlier.”
As if cued by Dave’s words, I heard dogs bark low and guttural from the ruined house. Dave did too.
“Why do they sound so mean?” I asked.
“H-hell hounds,” Dave said. “Sometimes a dog’s spirit turns into a hell-hound to guard property from trespassers.”
“Another stupid tall tale,” Amy said.
I went to the edge of Amy’s tent to get a better look down the embankment. All I saw was darkness where more menacing barking came from the property.
“I hear them,” Lenny said.
“Really?” It was Vree who spoke. She flung away her end of the blanket and stood with me, peering down the hillside. “Where are they? I want to see.”
I almost put an arm around her, but a pack of nine dogs charged from the ruins and lined up at the bottom of the hill, all glowing, and all looking at us with angry faces as clear as though they stood beneath a noon sun.
“Whoa,” I said, fascinated and a bit frightened by what I saw. There were white hounds with black and brown patches, some rough-coated terriers, and a brown Rottweiler that stood in the middle and slobbered foam from its mouth. Each dog growled low and guttural at us. But it was the fiery red glow of their eyes that caused me to take a step back.
Dave came up behind me. “I don’t like this,” he whispered to me. “Let’s head to the house where it’s safer.” Then he moved away slowly while Vree remained peering down the hill.
“Come on,” I heard Lenny say. I looked and saw him stepping away from Dave’s tent and toward the farmhouse.
“Maybe we should go,” I said, tugging at one of Vree’s shoulders. Growls rose in both pitch and volume below us.
“You don’t believe that nonsense, too, do you, Steve?” Amy asked as she joined us and wrapped her blanket around Vree’s shoulders.
The growls stopped. I saw that three of the seven dogs had vanished, which included the Rottweiler that seemed to be the leader.
“I do,” I said to Amy. “And you should, too.”
She laughed. Then, “This is all a Halloween prank concocted by my brother,” she said. “And not a very good one, either.”
“I don’t hear or see anything,” Vree said. She sounded disappointed.
I looked down at the dogs and jumped when I heard a shout from Dave behind us.
“Run,” he yelled.
I spun around. Vicious barking came from the driveway. Then Lenny yelled, “They’re after us.”
I saw him and Dave dash from around the side of the barn, coming toward us. Then Lenny veered to his right and vanished into the field. Dave followed as three glowing hounds raced into view, then charged after him.
“They’re heading toward Widow’s Ravine,” I said aloud to myself. I knew how dangerous the terrain was there. I turned back to talk to Amy when horrible howls from below us filled the air as the remaining dogs charged the hill.
Amy and Vree screamed.
“Holy crap,” Amy said before she tore past me, her end of the blanket dropping to the ground. Vree followed, leaving me and the blanket behind her.
I stared at the dogs charging toward me. Although it was my story, I felt I had lost control of what could happen next, so I charged after the girls heading to Mr. Evans’s house, which was lit up inside and looked so safe and inviting.
“But what about Lenny and Dave?” I asked, calling out to Vree and Amy.
The girls kept running toward the house.
So I turned and hurried after Lenny and Dave, heading blindly into an edge of brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed me, scratched my face and forearms, and scarred my blue jeans and white tennis shoes.
Those hell hounds were behind me, chasing me and closing distance quickly. My drumming heart climbed into my throat when I realized I couldn’t outrun them. My inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans.
Just as a bit of moonlight broke through the clouds, I burst through the confining brambles and into a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge.
In front of me, Dave and Lenny were doubled over and breathing hard. The three dogs that had chased them had their heads lowered and their rear ends in the air like wolves that had just pinned their prey.
I kicked at the Rottweiler in the middle, hoping to punt it over the cliff. Instead, my foot went through the apparition and I landed on my backside.
But I was quick to get back up as the rest of the pack caught up and formed a line behind me. The Rottweiler and his two companions joined the pack, and all of them glared with evil eyes and growled with slobbering mouths. Dave stood then and faced them.
“Now what?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered, which was true. I had no idea how the story would end.
“Be gone,” I said, hoping to see the ghost dogs vanish.
Suddenly, the Rottweiler charged and leaped at me. Its forepaws struck my chest and sent me stumbling backwards, my arms flailing as I was pushed over the precipice of Widows Ravine.
I plummeted one hundred feet to Myers Creek.
I didn’t scream. But my aching throat released a yelp of surprise when I entered its black, icy water. That’s when I remembered I didn’t know how to swim.
I sank quickly into the water’s deep darkness until my backside struck the lumpy river bottom of rock. I laid there a moment, dazed. Then I pushed off and struggled toward a sliver of moonlight rippling on the water’s surface far above me. My arms and legs felt encumbered by my heavy clothes. Worse, my lungs ached to release the little breath I held. I fought an intense, overwhelming urge to breathe deeply, though I could have stopped typing, thereby rethinking the story and taking myself out of harm’s way. But right then my mind had stopped thinking rationally as the urge to breathe overpowered me. I was only halfway to the surface when I knew that I wasn’t going to make it.
Just then, shimmering outstretched hands broke through the water’s surface and came for me. The nearest hand bore five black ruby rings, blistering from the gold of each ring. That hand grabbed the front of my jacket and pulled me from the depths of Myers Creek.
My mouth sucked in air and bits of water to my lungs, which sent me into a coughing and sputtering fit while Ademia managed to get me to shore. I vomited creek water and bits of chewed hotdog upon the bank of Myers Creek until I caught my breath.
“Your friends David and Leonard are safe,” Ademia said. “I stopped the dogs from attacking. But I was too late to keep the big one from pushing you.”
I looked at her, puzzled. She was as dry as when she’d sat at the fire earlier.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I am someone you beckoned,” she said. “Now I ask the same of you, young man. Who are you?”
I paused and wondered how to explain myself. And while I did, I suddenly realized my savior’s identity.
“You’re Cathleen Myers,” I said as I knelt wet and cold at her bare feet. “And it’s true your husband and his dogs froze to death.”
She was quiet while she studied me with darkened eyes below a troubled scowl.
Finally, “Yes, I am the scorned wife who angered an ancient, evil power from Myers Ridge, a power that froze to death my unfaithful husband and cruelly cast me to my grave.”
“Tell me what happened.”
She opened her mouth but said nothing. Then I heard Dave call my name from atop the ridge, so I hollered back that I was okay. After he told me to go to the bridge on Russell Road, I thanked Ademia for rescuing me.
The rubies of her rings began to glow, turning golden, then white and bright. She held her hands to her sad face.
“I am cursed forever,” she said before the light engulfed her and caused me to look away. When the light vanished I looked back; Ademia the ghost was gone.
I headed toward Russell Road and the bridge Dave had told me to go to, wondering all the while what she had done to have cursed her to dwell forever in the paranormal world of Myers Ridge.
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