Art ~ Writing ~ Life

From Handprints To Footprints

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.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

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.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

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.”

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

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.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

Save

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.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

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.”

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

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.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

Save

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.

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

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

*.*.*

Click to read the next chapter

Free Books

July 2, 2016
Steve Campbell

I just found out that July is a great month to get ebooks for free or at discounted prices at Smashwords. I have two books there that are permanently free, and one that is 99 cents (USD). The free ones are Old Bones: A Collection of Short Stories and Margga’s Curse: A Vree Erickson Novel. Kismet: A Ridgewood Tale is 99 cents.

Smashwords-800x632

My Smashwords author page link where you can find my books at the bottom of the page.

I have also discovered over at Amazon that these guys hate letting authors give away books permanently for free. They have allowed me to lower the prices of Old Bones and Margga’s Curse to 99 cents, but no lower, even though I contacted them months ago to set the prices at FREE. If you happen to be at one of those Amazon ebook sites and you do not see the book listed as free, please take a moment to submit the price difference from B&N or any of the other sites they are free on. Amazon claims to listen to their customers. If only they would listen to us indie authors and respect our wishes.

Thanks to everyone who have downloaded my books. Super Thanks to everyone who have read my books. And an Awesome Thank You to those of you who have written reviews. Places like Amazon build walls around indie authors; reviews help tear them down.

Free Kismet eBook Promotion Reminder

May 20, 2016
Steve Campbell

Now until Halloween of this year you can save 99 cents and get my ebook Kismet: A Ridgewood Tale free at my Smashwords page by entering 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.

Kismet is a mystery story with a sci-fi element of time travel in it for adventure. You can read its history and different versions of it here at my blog by using Kismet as the keyword of your search, though it may take away the enjoyment of reading the final version first.

Kismet occurs in my fictional town Ridgewood, of course, and is about a diary from the past that warns Addison Taylor about her future. However, it’s Christmas and she’s too busy with her recent marriage and problems at work to worry about a book whose author is certainly delusional. But when she and her husband Daniel hike Myers Ridge in the spring, the diary’s warnings become real and force the couple headlong into mystery, suspense, and a strange world of past, present, and future. Can Addison and Daniel change the past to protect their future together?

I hope you take advantage of this offer and read the book to find out.

Free Book Promotion

April 30, 2016
Steve Campbell

Hello readers and fans of my fiction. I am offering my 99-cent sci-fi adventure novella Kismet: A Ridgewood Tale free starting tomorrow (5/1/2016) and ending Halloween (10/31/2016) at my Smashwords page. Go to my page here 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.

You can view more information about Kismet at My Books page tab above my blog’s header.

Publishing and selling my books via Smashwords are new ventures for me, so please contact me if you experience any problems. Thank you.

I’m At Smashwords

March 22, 2016
Steve Campbell

After publishing my ebooks at Amazon for three years, I finally stuck my toes in the waters of Smashwords today, checked for sharks and other things that bite, and took the plunge.

See my profile page at Smashwords. Click here.

After I filled out my profile page, I uploaded an ebook formatted to Smashwords’s specifications. It didn’t take long for them to publish my book, but there was a short delay because I didn’t assign an ISBN to it. There was no prompt at the setup page to assign an ISBN, which I think would be a nice feature there. Smashwords doesn’t require authors to assign ISBNs to their ebooks, but it’s necessary if you want to sell at Apple and Kobo stores through Smashwords. So, I assigned an ISBN to my ebook, which has me hoping the numbers took and my ebook will end up listed at the Apple and Kobo stores.

ob 533x800

Old Bones: A Collection of Short Stories is free and contains earlier published material. The following is the ebook’s official blurb:

A collection of 19 short stories spanning 40+ years of the author’s career as an independent author. The stories are divided into three groups: Tales for Young Adults, Oddities, and Tales for Adults, and center on eerie Ridgewood, Pennsylvania and some of the characters who live there.

Go to my book’s Smashwords download page to get it free. Or wait a few days for it to arrive at the major online ebook stores.

It is my intention to increase my ebooks availability, meet some new readers, and perhaps strike some new friendships.

New Cover and Free Books

July 14, 2015
Steve Campbell

I redesigned the cover of Kismet at Amazon and added a bonus story to the book. Readers who own the earlier version of Kismet and want the bonus story can get it free here. The book is a PDF and is free to download and convert to other reading formats.

I have added more books to the Free PDF Downloads section of my Library tab in Writing. All the books are PDFs and yours to add to your libraries. I plan to add more freebies as time permits.

Meanwhile, anyone who ventures beyond the WordPress Reader and actually visits my blog will notice I have housecleaned my blog’s appearance again. I plan to keep the current design for a year or longer, though I need to tweak a few items when I have time.

Enjoy the freebies and drop me a line.

Green Crystal, chapter 19

April 30, 2015
Steve Campbell

In this last chapter, it’s now June 29, 2013 and Lenny Stevens is on his parent’s front porch, trying to become a better artist by painting Sara Taylor’s portrait; she reminds him of Vree Erickson, though she is seven years younger. Lenny pines to have Vree back; the hope that she could return by magic glimmers in his eyes and he believes it could happen if he paints an accurate portrait of Vree. But to do so, he needs to practice … a lot. Discouraged by his lack of skill and troubled that Sara is attracted to him, he stops painting for the day and, upon her encouragement, tells her about the magic green crystal that Vree had found in the sinkhole of her backyard, how she became frightened of it, and that she threw it back before vanishing mysteriously. Sara kisses him before leaving for the day. Lost in memories and troubled thoughts, he sits on the porch with a shard of Vree’s broken mirror (a piece he took from her bedroom when Mrs. Erickson allowed him inside one time) and watches twilight turn to night, long after his mother calls him in to eat; he falls asleep and dreams about Vree.

Cracks In Time

We choreograph the crystal’s dance of light and color to mirror the dance of Creation.

Chapter 3 of 3: June 29, 2013

It was almost four o’clock that Saturday summer afternoon when Lenny Stevens picked a housefly from a mound of oil paint on his canvas. The north end of his parent’s front porch was now part of his makeshift artist’s studio. Heat blistered the air despite the shade and an electric fan blowing a cool breeze from one of three card tables. A young girl in a yellow summer dress reclined on a lounge chair covered in multicolored satin pillows. Her hair was the color of fine gold, her cheeks ruby-red, her smiling eyes like sapphire pools. She glowed of extraordinary purity like a summer sunset in a garden of carnations and lilies.

Well, maybe not the latter, but Lenny liked the poetic way it sounded and how much saying “A summer sunset in a garden of carnations and lilies” reminded him of Vree Erickson.

His newfound model, Sara Taylor, was nine—“Nine-and-a-half,” she’d told him—almost seven years younger than Vree and him. But she owned a beauty similar to Vree’s that he desired to capture on canvas—the way he should have done the first day he had met Vree. Yet the very thing he desired to paint distracted him, filled his heart with a want to have Vree back, to see her lounging on the chair instead of Sara.

The daughter of the woman who owned the bookstore downtown raised a delicate eyebrow and curled up a smile at the corner of her mouth.

“My parents say I can invite you to dinner tonight,” she said. “I hope you like Chicken à la caléndonienne.”

Her voice was the light tinkling of wind chimes in a gentle breeze; the very voice that had sung to him five weeks ago about his amateurish paintings of Vree being absolutely beautiful and emotional and heartfelt.

“With practice you’ll get better,” she had told him. “You can practice painting me, if you’d like.”

Now, anxiety passed over his face.

“Who am I kidding? Vree was the artist. No matter how well I try to paint her image, it won’t bring her back.”

Still, the hope that Vree could return by magic glimmered in his eyes. She had been his true love, the only girl in Ridgewood who had ever been able to reach inside and steal his heart. Being with Vree had made everything in his life seem perfect.

He sucked in a deep breath to help settle his anxiety.

“Chicken à la caléndonienne,” Sara repeated.

“Chicken à la caléndonienne?” Lenny said with a voice like a steel breeze from winter’s coldest hour. “What’s that?”

“Chicken baked in butter, parsley and lemon juice. It’s good.”

It sounded good but Lenny dared not admit it. He said, “Hmmm,” instead and adjusted his paint-splattered smock. Then he took a long flat paintbrush and spread white oil paint across his palette. The milky hue merged into a puddle of yellow, crimson and blue paint until he was certain he had the right color. He approached the large easel with its canvas positioned at eye level, dashed a shaky stroke of color across the fabric, and studied again the face of the young girl he was painting.

He saw it then, it was a look in her eyes: puppy love. He put down the brush, tossed his palette and other brushes on a card table and told Sara the session was over.

“Patience, she reminded him as she rose from the love seat.

“Yes, patience and practice, patience and practice,” he huffed, and then backed down as soon as he saw her amorous face peer at him.

“You’re a really cute guy, Lenny Stevens, and you have talent to be a great artist someday.” She smiled.

“I’m too old for you,” Lenny said.

Sara’s smile remained. “When you’re twenty-five and I’m nineteen, our age difference won’t seem like a big deal.”

“I have a girlfriend.”

“Tell me,” she said, releasing the smile and letting a frown crease her brow. “I want to know what happened to her.” She sat on a metal stool next to the card table cluttered with paint tubes and brushes, picked up an art book and rested it on her lap.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 18

April 29, 2015
Steve Campbell

When Vree Erickson magically passes through her mirror to her friend Dave Evans’s bedroom, she knows the entity is still alive inside her and wants Dave dead. There, she stands up to Angelina, the entity from the crystal powerful enough to destroy her and everyone she holds dear in life.

Cracks In Time

We choreograph the crystal’s dance of light and color to mirror the dance of Creation.

Chapter 2 of 3: December 31, 2012

Dave Evans surrendered the gaze of his deep blue eyes to one of wildness mixed with flight. The air around him had become thin and dry, as though an unseen storm had sucked the very oxygen from the sunny sky over Myers Ridge.

“Bottom of the seventh. We need some runs,” Parker Evans said before he called out three names of the players scheduled to bat. His ragtag team sat on lawn chairs along third base. The hot chocolate in the red and white Igloo water dispenser on the middle chair had gone cold during the fifth inning. The snow in the backyard had turned to slush and the game was winding down. So was their day of fun.

“Cheer up,” he said to Dave before he took his spot as coach near third base.

Dave’s gaze wandered again to the barn and the small girl standing there. The afternoon sun seemed to spark Krissy Tyree’s long, soft brown hair. A halo of green surrounded her, but it did not diminish the brightness of white funeral dress she wore. Dave practically hugged himself from a chill gripping his back. He thought about telling someone about the ghost, but quashed the idea when she glared at him.

On the field, the dead girl’s dad, Huritt Tyree, laced a hit over the second baseman’s head. The forty-something man could have had a double in his younger years. He stopped at first base and clapped, cheering for Becky Jones to bring him home and tie the game. Dave tore his gaze from Krissy and watched his neighbor from Russell Road lace a hot single past third base. The slush kept the yellow softball from going far and several players slipped and fell while running to it. Huritt took advantage of their mishaps and advanced to third, landing on his backside when the plywood base slipped from under him. Laughter erupted from everyone but Dave. He felt Krissy’s icy stare on him and remembered the day he had killed her.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 17

April 28, 2015
Steve Campbell

2012 is winding down and the murdering entity of the green crystal that Vree Erickson found in a sinkhole in her backyard still possesses her. Determined to rid herself of the entity, she returns the crystal to the sinkhole.

But when she magically passes through her mirror to her friend Dave Evans’s bedroom, she knows the entity is still alive inside her and wants Dave dead.

Now Vree finds herself standing up to the entity powerful enough to destroy her and everyone she holds dear in life.

“Cracks In Time” is a short story and the fifth installment of the Ridgewood Chronicles and The Green Crystal Stories—a riveting story propelling Vree and her friend Lenny Stevens deeper into mystery.

Cracks In Time

We choreograph the crystal’s dance of light and color to mirror the dance of Creation.

Chapter 1: December 31, 2012

The vengeful entity’s name was Angelina. Her goal was to enact vengeance on those people marked in green. She who had possessed Vree Erickson had been born from mysterious magic power of a green crystal found in a sinkhole in Vree’s backyard. The crystal’s power had saved Vree’s life — her mother’s, too — but it had also used her to kill. And for everyone Vree saw cloaked in a green aura, she feared for their lives.

Angelina’s power over Vree was strongest when she possessed the green crystal, which is why she had thrown it and the smaller one that she had taken from Uncle John into the sinkhole in her backyard. And now, after a geological inspector had authorized her parents to fill in the hole, Angelina’s presence inside her had quieted, hopefully gone altogether and back inside the crystal it had come from.

Filling the hole three days after Christmas had also stopped the electrical disturbances from inside the earth affecting cell phones, wireless internet service, and satellite TV on Myers Ridge. Even cars and trucks were able to travel the ridge once more without stalling. Life seemed to have returned to normal, but the nightmares for Vree continued. Angelina had made her nothing more than a machine harboring a virus programmed to persecute and kill people guilty of petty crimes such as arrogance, disrespect, injustice, and deception. Not being in control of her mind and body still terrified Vree.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 16

April 27, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 5: December 25, 2006

The patter of bare feet on wood floor brought Addison from her slumber. Seconds later, a child’s voice whispered in an ear, “Merry Christmas, Mommy.”

She reached out from the blankets and pulled the girl in bed with her.

“Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday,” she said as she cuddled the child close to her bosom.

“I want to open presents,” the child said.

“Me, too,” a husky voice said.

Daniel rolled over and hugged his wife and daughter. For a moment, Addie saw a whirlwind of light around them. The image faded like gossamer memories slipping away like fog in the lamplight that Daniel brought to the room. She peeked at the clock: 6:03.

“Okay,” she said to him. “You take Sara downstairs and I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.”

Daniel rolled from bed, scooped up their excited three-year-old daughter, and snatched his robe from the closet door.

The house phone rang next to the bed. She let Daniel answer it downstairs as she rose and stumbled toward the bathroom. In the hall, she bumped against a stand and knocked her blue diary to the floor. A photograph fell from the pages as she picked up the book. The photograph was of Sara at the hospital on the day she was born.

Addison took a pen from the stand and wrote the day’s date on a blank page. Then she wrote, Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday to my baby girl who means the world to her mommy and daddy.

Just then, Sara and Daniel called for her to hurry. She picked up the photo and tucked it away in the back of the book, and then hurried headlong in the rush that was Christmas and birthday presents shared with a loving family.

~ ~ ~

Across town, Catherine Johnson’s latest dream troubled her. She propped herself on elbows and looked around the bedroom that seemed familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The room seemed longer, rectangular, and its four windows seemed wider and spaced further apart — but that could be from the play of dim morning light trying to pass through her curtains. The bedroom suite was still the one she had purchased after Nate’s death seven years ago, and the cream carpet still had the stain where she had spilled some wine one night when she made love to a date that ended up a brief sexual encounter.

She fell dizzily back to her pillows and thought of going back to sleep. She was tired, much more tired than she had ever been before. As she warmed again to the blankets covering her, footsteps outside her door caused her to stir.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 15

April 26, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 4: April 15, 1988

He was on his back. For a moment, Daniel thought he was floating. Then his head cleared and he saw that he was beneath some pines, on a dry mattress of grass and pine needles, sprawled on his back, his pack pressing uncomfortably against his spine. He rolled over and realizing he was holding his breath, gasped for air until his breathing became normal. A faraway whoosh came from automobile tires passing over blacktop nearby. He brushed himself off and set off looking for Addison.

~ ~ ~

The news was fifteen years old but current to the people of this time. Daniel put away the newspaper. When he looked from the rear booth and across the diner, the teenage boy sitting at the counter had to be Tom Matthews. The girl at his side was definitely Addison Johnson, destined to become Addison Matthews, and later, Addison Taylor. She and Tom would graduate high school later this year.

Daniel sipped at his coffee and waved for his check. The bleached-blonde twenty-something cashier-slash-waitress nodded. She spoke to Tom and Addison who were on their way out after finishing a basket of fries and two milkshakes.

He watched Addison leave with Tom and kiss him goodbye on the sidewalk. He observed her cross the street, her red hair blowing in the April wind. When she was out of sight, he took from his jacket pocket a small but fat blue book and began to read.

Catherine’s Diner was slowly filling with Ridgewood’s elderly shuffling in for supper. A young, red-haired woman came from the kitchen and placed a slice of apple pie on his table.

“I didn’t order this,” he said.

“On the house,” she said. “I’m on my break and noticed you sitting here all alone, looking like you lost your best friend.” She studied him with beautiful green eyes. “Where are you from?” She sipped at the Pepsi she had bought along through a straw. “I’ve never seen you before.”

“I’m from someplace far away.”

“How far?”

“I was born in Minnesota, a long time ago.”

She smiled. “How long ago was that?”

He shrugged. “Enough to make me feel very old.”

“I don’t think you’re old.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Usually to someone your age, I’m considered ancient.”

“I’m different than others my age.”

He agreed. “And how old is someone your age? Twenty one?”

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 14

April 25, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 3: April 26, 2003

“Ugh. I think I swallowed a spider.”

Daniel pulled a small, brown leaf from his mouth and pushed the hanging branches away from his face. Drops of water sprinkled down on him and he shivered. “Wait up a second, honey. I need to readjust my pack.”

Addison stopped and combed a hand through her short blonde hair. “We’re almost out of the woods,” she said and took out her canteen. “The hill’s summit is another hour. Then we can set up our tent and…” She let her voice fall away while she removed the cap and drank.

“God willing,” Daniel moaned while he adjusted the straps around his shoulders. “I’m getting too old for this.”

“Forty-nine isn’t old,” she said and looked into his blue eyes and winked. “Besides, you shouldn’t have worn so much, especially on a day like today.”

He looked down at the long khaki shirt and pants. “I can’t help it we’re having unseasonable weather today.” He pointed at patches of snow and ice lingering in the valley. “It’ll be cold tonight, though. It’s still April.” He took a mouthful of cool water and swallowed.

“That’s okay,” Addison purred. “I have you to keep me warm.” She turned and pulled at the pant legs of her black spandex shorts that had crept up her thighs. “Besides, this was your idea to paint the landscapes up here. So stop complaining.”

“Or what?” Daniel studied the tall, trim woman, stared at her youthful-looking face and felt his love for her quicken. She was thirty-three, but looked barely twenty-five. He wiped sweat from his forehead, then handed back the canteen.

“I love you, Addison,” he said. He tried to embrace her, but her pack got in the way. He leaned in and tried to kiss her, but she swatted at a fly buzzing her face. He decided to step back and blow her a kiss instead.

She pretended to catch it and place it against her heart. “I love you, too,” she said, putting away the canteen, and then embracing him and kissing him deeply. Daniel closed his eyes and felt a wave of desire wash over him. She gently pushed away and he let her go.

“Come on,” she said, pointing to the top of the rise. “Our destiny awaits us, master painter.

The loose stone and gravel slowed their climb, making Daniel eager to rest again. He looked forward to reaching the top and setting up their tent.

They lunched at one-thirty next to their packs on the face of the hillside. Looking down at the widespread valleys of Ridgewood, Daniel noted how years of wind, rain and snow had stripped away trees and other large plant life on some areas of the hill, creating patches of bare rock. Ugly to some, but beautiful contrasts of texture and form to the eyes of an artist.

Addison pointed down the slope. “I used to climb those rocks when I was a kid. My dad used to stay fit by climbing the hill.” She took a bite from a stick of celery and Daniel fetched a drawing pad and some pencils from his pack. He quickly sketched the surrounding landscape and Addison. She waited until he finished before she took a digital camera from her pack and went about photographing him and the landscape.

“Hey,” he called out while sketching more rock. “What would you say if I told you I may retire from the college after this year?”

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 13

April 24, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 2: December 25, 2000

Part 2 of 2

Addison’s bedroom was now a sewing room with a reading sofa in front of the far window. Daniel helped Addison there and laid her down. Then he unfolded an afghan draped over the back. While he tucked her in, Catherine and Kay entered the room.

“Is she okay?” Catherine asked as she went to Addison. “Aunt Peggy told us she fell ill.”

Daniel stood and straightened his jacket and tie. “A touch of the flu,” is all he said, though he sounded unsure.

“What’s going on?” Catherine stood and confronted him. “There’s an empty wheelchair downstairs where a woman once sat. Where is she? Why is everyone being so mysterious?”

“I don’t know,” Daniel said. He excused himself and hurried downstairs. The wheelchair was gone.

“Sara took it to her car,” Aunt Peggy explained. Then, “Is Addie going to be alright?”

“She didn’t vanish, if that’s what you mean. Other than that, I don’t know.” He ran a hand through his hair. “This is crazy. I just saw a woman disappear before my very eyes.”

Sara came in from outdoors and stomped snow from her boots. She looked troubled as Daniel approached her with a succession of questions and accusations.

“She isn’t to blame,” Aunt Peggy said.

“Not good enough. I want answers.”

“You read the diary.”

Daniel went to the bar next to the record cabinet. He found some scotch and drank from the bottle. He wiped his chin and said to Sara, “What’s your story? Why are you here?”

“Jane was my mother,” she said. “I recently found that out after some DNA testing.” She examined her hands. “I’m her flesh and blood. That’s the reason I’m here.”

“At the end of the diary, she claimed that she was Addie,” Daniel said. “How is that possible?”

“I don’t know. But that makes you my father.” Sara sounded small and frightened. “Now I know where I get my blonde hair.”

“How am I supposed to believe something so crazy?” Daniel said to Aunt Peggy, who stood silently watching from the center of the room.

“I know how hard it is to believe in something so incredible,” Aunt Peggy said. “But Jane’s blood matched Addie’s. Even her fingerprints were Addie’s.”

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 12

April 23, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 2: December 25, 2000

Part 1 of 2

Addison stood at the far end of her mother’s Victorian-styled dining room and rubbed her eyes. They watered from the ever-present scent of potpourri. She glanced around at the blushing wall coverings with floral borders, and the three cabinets of Waterford crystal, china and porcelain along the long wall. Elegantly framed photographs of her police officer father adorned the walls, put there after he died last year.

She smiled at the only family portrait while she stepped closer to see a young and proud Nathan and Catherine Johnson surrounded by three adolescent daughters.

“Your mother was twelve when that picture was taken,” she said to the ten-year-old boy who had walked in and now stood next to her.

“How old were you, Aunt Addie?” he asked. He pulled at the stiff collar of his white dress shirt and stared up at the picture.

“I was seven, Alan,” she said while staring at the photograph and becoming lost in another time. “Aunt Valerie was your age. Hard to believe how fast the years have gone by.”

Just then, her nephew Jeffrey rushed past in a fury and shouted, “Aunt Peggy’s here.”

Alan ran to the front door while Addison held up a glass of cranberry juice in her right hand and whispered, “Merry Christmas, Daddy.”

She went to the window and saw Daniel’s black Grand Cherokee pull into the snowplowed driveway. Behind him, a white Cadillac entered the drive and parked.

“Who’s that in the Caddy?” her sister Kay asked from the front room.

Their mother stepped from the kitchen. “Get away from the window — both of you. Your aunt is bringing some guests.”

Addison remembered the diary. She had not read it.

Kay whistled at her mother when she entered the dining room. Then, “Holy cow, you’re decked out more than usual for Christmas. These guests must be VIPs.”

Addison looked at their changed mother dressed in teal velvet with opulent white lace. Pearls hung from her ears and around her neck. A delicate glow surrounded her. She was a woman unknown to them, out of the pages of a French fashion magazine.

“Never you mind,” Catherine Johnson said, “and hurry setting the table.”

“Was it a gift from Valerie?” Kay asked. “It looks good on you, Mom … promoting the bon chic, bon genre.”

Catherine ignored her daughter’s remark and clapped her hands. “Come on you two and help me get the table set. We need ten settings of the good china.”

“Ten?” Addison looked out the window. She saw Daniel’s blonde head on the other side of the Cadillac, at the back, helping someone to a wheelchair. “How many are coming?”

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 11

April 22, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 1: December 24, 2000

Part 2 of 2

“I think you should do it,” Daniel said when he climbed in bed and sat next to her.

“But I’m a director of nursing, not a bookstore owner. Besides, her store makes very little money.”

“We don’t need it — I make enough for both of us.” He pulled the blankets to his naked chest. “Besides, the direction the hospital is going, it’ll be a Band-Aid station in a few years and you’ll be out of a job.”

Addison slapped the bed. “The hospital’s future isn’t as grim as people make out.”

Daniel put an arm around her. “It’s in a perpetual recession. You’ve been laying off nurses since the day we met. It’s only a matter of time before your hours get cut as well.”

“Things are going to get better.”

Daniel shook his head. “When’s the last time you got a raise?”

“We have a salary cap right now.”

“Exactly.”

Addison frowned, then felt his body heat and cuddled close. He rubbed her neck, kissed her shoulder that had the dime-size freckle she disliked, all the while releasing the tension in her shoulders and back. She said, “I worked at Aunt Peggy’s store while going to college, pretending I owned the place on days she left me alone. In some of my notebooks, I drew sketches of turning the upstairs apartment into a tea and coffee room and a place for shoppers to sit and read.”

“Sounds to me like kismet — something that was meant to be.”

“That’s what Aunt Peggy called it, like I was chosen at birth by the retail gods to own her store.”

“You know, I could sell my artwork there. I think the locals would like not having to drive to the New Cambridge gallery to buy my prints.”

She pondered Daniel’s words, but still felt frightened. “I don’t know. The place needs a lot of work.”

Daniel shrugged. “We can use money from my savings.”

“Tom would never have allowed me—”

Daniel placed a finger against her lips. “I’m not Tom Matthews. What’s in the past is over and done with, never to be again. It’s just you and me and the future.”

Addison nodded; she still looked worried. “It’s the dead of winter and the wiring needs updated and the lights replaced, not to mention the walls need repainted and the floors carpeted. And those old curtains—”

Daniel chuckled. “Not so fast. It’ll get done in due time.”

Addison sighed. “But the hospital needs me. My nurses need me. This is flu season.” She ran her hands over his naked back and down his hips. She stopped. “I’ll break her heart if I say no.”

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 10

April 21, 2015
Steve Campbell

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Chapter 1: December 24, 2000

Part 1 of 2

Addison Taylor played again the message her husband had left on their answering machine. He would not be home until after midnight. Although the college at nearby New Cambridge was on Christmas hiatus between semesters, he had a lot of student artwork to grade before he could begin his vacation.

“No rest for the weary,” he had said when Addison called his campus office.

She heard exhaustion in Daniel’s voice, recognized the tired strain that comes from trying to meet deadlines.

“Make sure you eat,” she said. “I worry about you.”

“I will.”

“You better. I know how you get when you’re busy.” She listened to him shuffling through papers on his desk. She sighed. She knew she was keeping him from his work, but she had to force herself to say goodbye. She tossed her cell phone on her computer desk next to the wall mirror, glanced up at her freckled face, and then combed her fingers through her hair kept short and blonde with scissors and Clairol in the upstairs bathroom.

Who has time for styling salons? Certainly not me. Not now.

She fixed her pink sweater and white turtleneck collar, and then looked at her dispirited green eyes behind her glasses. Exhaustion hung from her lower lids, drooping down her cheeks and across the corners of her mouth.

The recent divorce from Tom Matthews had been long and bitter, and had kept her from the summer activities she normally did to relax and stay fit. Her exercise now was the steady battle with snow outdoors, last minute Christmas shopping, and the grind of trying to maintain a properly staffed nursing unit at the hospital. Even today, her CEO had sent another memo to cut more nurses’ hours. She leaned her head against her wood bookcase and experienced for the first time age creeping up at her within the stress and exhaustion she felt.

The telephone brought her out of her reverie. It was Aunt Peggy calling, wanting her to come by the bookstore and pick up a Christmas gift. By her watch, it was almost eight-thirty and Addison did not want to dress and go out into the cold night.

“I thought we were going to exchange gifts tomorrow on Christmas Day,” she said, hoping her aunt would change her mind.

“We are, dear,” the old woman said. “It’s just that … I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I’ll be at the store until eight. I could use some help closing.”

Addison shook her head. “If you wanted help at the store, why didn’t you say so?”

“I just did. See you in a few.”

Addison bundled up in her black fur parka and drove her snow-covered silver Volvo toward Ridgewood’s downtown district. With a population of almost eight thousand, downtown was small with two banks, a post office, a few diners and bars, and Peggy’s Good Used Books sandwiched between a hardware store and a pizzeria. The rest of the town’s merchants did business either along the south highway toward Alice Lake, or along the north highway and New Cambridge. Even she favored the stores at North Ridgewood Plaza.

She parked in front of her aunt’s bookstore and apartment, and delicately walked over ice and snow that slowed her progress. Still, light from stores and street lamps reflected like diamonds on every bit of freshly fallen snow and made it a pretty sight.

Inside her aunt’s old building, a tiny bell above the door announced her entrance. Warm and cozy, the place smelled of lilacs and aging paper.

She called out and announced her arrival while she hung her coat on the tree next to the door. A distant voice responded from the back, so Addison made her way through a tunnel of shelves and entered a room full of unwanted books and magazines the town unloaded in the rear of the store at night. Plastic bags, cardboard boxes, paper sacks and volumes of text littered the room’s tables, benches and floor. A fluorescent light flickered and buzzed from the drop ceiling installed twenty years ago. Brown stains on the ceiling tile marked places where rain and snow had seeped inside.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 9

April 20, 2015
Steve Campbell

What can I say about “Kismet” that hasn’t been said? You can read all about the story’s different incarnations in earlier blog posts.

Here, the story takes place in the past as far back as 1981 and as recent as 2006. A diary from the past warns Addison Taylor about her future. However, it is Christmas and she is too busy with her recent marriage and problems at work to worry about a book whose author is certainly delusional. But when she and her husband hike Myers Ridge, the diary’s warnings become real. Will she and her husband change the past to protect their future together?

“Kismet” is the fourth story installment of the Ridgewood Chronicles and The Green Crystal Stories—eerie tales set in and around the town of Ridgewood, PA.

Kismet

“The past is but the beginning of a beginning.” —H.G. Wells

Prologue: February 27, 1981

Nine-year-old Sara Holcomb stood behind the wheelchair and with small fingers, worked braids in the woman’s long red hair.

“Don’t move, Jane,” she said. “I’m almost done.”

Slumped in her oversized chair, Jane Doe stared ahead, out through the large bay window at an early spring storm settling over Ridgewood. Beyond the snow-patched sloping lawn that ran a short soggy distance to a large black iron fence and busy street, cars and yellow school buses sloshed past, while kids in winter coats scurried around — and sometimes through — puddles of slush on their way to school. How she wished to be outdoors among them, to share their camaraderie, and not imprisoned to a wheelchair and this enormous Victorian house called Holcomb Manor.

Since her arrival three months ago, Jonathan Holcomb’s staff brought her here every morning to watch the traffic. Nurse Rachel hoped it would help bring back memories of her past and fill an empty mind that had become a blank slate. She was supposed to write down anything that looked familiar in the small but fat blue diary she held in her lap. But nothing about Holcomb Manor or its busy street looked familiar.

She tried with difficulty to remember something — anything — before awakening at the clinical research hospital in Philadelphia for coma patients. All she knew about herself — little as it was — had come the day she arrived here, from Jonathan Holcomb, a self-made millionaire from Pittsburgh who owned Holcomb Plastics located in several cities and towns in Pennsylvania.

“I like the Mayberry picturesqueness of Ridgewood over the other places I call home,” he had told her that day at his big shiny desk in his library.

He was a cigar-smoking, black-haired man in his early forties with smartly styled wavy hair. He had worn a shiny suit as dark as his steel-blue eyes that day, and a red silk tie that glistened bright against a white shirt.

“It was a Sunday, April, back in ’71. I was hiking Myers Ridge, looking for arrowheads and whatnot.” He smiled. “I’m an aggregator … a collector. Numismatist and philatelist, mostly.”

He spoke with an even, soothing voice while he gestured with clean white hands with manicured nails. Large gold rings on both hands suggested that he had attended several universities. Jane wondered why she associated the rings with academia.

“That’s when I found you unconscious and near death at the bottom of a ravine. Your legs were broken, so I fashioned a stretcher with my jacket and got you to my car where I drove you to the hospital. You were nearly ten years in a coma while the authorities tried to find out who you are. You had no identification.”

At this point, Jonathan paused and appeared to look at her the way an appreciator of art would appraise a valuable piece. Then he frowned, as though discovering a flaw. “Oddly,” he said, “your fingerprints have revealed nothing. You’re a living Jane Doe, which is why I call you Jane. No family has ever been found … that’s why the hospital released you to my care.”

He had never said I own you that day, and he didn’t have to. As long as she remained anonymous, she was his to have and to own.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 8

April 19, 2015
Steve Campbell

So far in The Green Crystal Stories, teenagers Vree Erickson and Lenny Stevens have battled hellhounds, Vree found a magic crystal that took possession of her body and killed two men, and yesterday she and Lenny parted after the magic in her put a boy and girl inside a computer game.

In this chapter of “III”, Vree is still not a POV character. That role goes to a minor character, her mother’s cousin Uncle John who happens to be in a certain place at the right time. In this case, that place is where another green crystal is. The crystal’s magic sends him back in time where…

III

The past is a door with ghosts behind it.

December 28, 2012

Chapter 3

Three days after Christmas, it rained that morning. That afternoon the distant sun came out and warmed the air as best it could. John Gentry hitched sharp-angled shoulders and cast his line from a wooden dock east of Myers Ridge at a cabin next to one of Alice Lake’s several marshes. His lake used to be a good lake until 1979 when it became tormented by industrial dumping. Then, the plastics factory moved overseas in 2001. EPA claimed the lake clean again last year, but only a few anglers ever ventured to eat from waters that many local environmentalists claimed still maintained an unhealthy middle.

But John knew how to recognize cancer sores on his fish, and he knew good meat by its smell before he put it to butter, lemon, and salt and pepper. And any fish thoroughly gutted and seasoned and fried right was edible, even those muddy tasting largemouth he had caught two years ago.

A bar of silver flashed close to his dock. He cast his line and hooked a smallmouth bass. Though not as good tasting as crappie or walleye, he considered any fish better eating than largemouth. He tossed the fish in his cooler, tried again for a trout, and hooked another smallmouth.

He wondered. Smallmouth normally kept to the deeper, colder sections of this mesotrophic lake. Was the marsh of aquatic vegetation bringing them closer to shore?

Victor would have known.

John checked his watch, noted the hour, and knew it was time to spruce himself inside the cabin before paying respect to the man who had been his adopted father and best friend.

As he reeled in his line from one more try at catching a lake trout, he hooked something heavy. He struggled to undo the object, then brought it up slowly, careful not to break the line and lose his favorite and most effective lure.

It was a small pail like the kind he once carried fish home when he was a boy. But this pail had lost its shine long ago. Completely rusted, it had holes in the side and was filled with muddy silt that he emptied on the dock and looked through for crayfish, minnows and other baitfish. He found nothing of interest but a four-inch length of green crystal that warmed and brightened in his hand, even after he washed the mud away in the cold lake water. It would make a nice pendant or key fob, so he pocketed it before heading to the cabin.

A half-hour later, without Sara at his side (she was in Pittsburgh, sitting in for him at a Dairy Producers Conference), he hurried from the cabin as the sky started to spit rain, and drove his Camry along a wooded trail toward Ridgewood and Victor O’Neil’s funeral.

He felt alone without his constant companion to social engagements next to him. (They had married twenty-seven years ago, the year she graduated from nearby New Cambridge University. He was twenty and she had just turned twenty-three. The wedding ceremony turned out better than how they had rehearsed it. Even the cake turned out perfect. And although his foster mom Zela O’Neil lamented he had married too young, that his destiny was college and a profession as a teacher, she shared his happiness anyway when he became a farmer and part-time writer for the Ridgewood Gazette. She and Victor ended up loving Sara and the children dearly.)

During the drive to the highway, he realized he had left his wallet in his tackle box inside the cabin. He considered turning around but a sudden rush of hail burst through the canopy of trees. Several yards ahead, a pine tree that had lost its branches and bark toppled and splintered across the trail. He braked and cursed, knowing he would have to leave the dryness of his car to remove the tree blocking his way. As he reached for the door handle, a whistling bolt of lightning struck the hood of his car and rocked it like a boat taking a large wake to the stern. His ears popped and a deafening ringing filled his head. His hands tingled and felt like they had been too close to a raging fire. He put his fingertips to his tongue to relieve the burn. When the ringing stopped and the ache in his fingers subsided, the storm was gone and the sun was shining.

He got out and inspected a large scorch mark across the hood where the lightning had turned portions of the car’s metallic blue color to an ashy gray. Nothing some paint would not fix he reasoned before he went to remove the tree. It was gone.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 7

April 18, 2015
Steve Campbell

In this chapter of Book 3 in The Green Crystal Stories, Lenny Stevens is the POV character. He likes Vree and she likes him. She emerges enough from her possession to speak to him, but she is still a distant character.

I said yesterday that “III” is a possession story and poses to Vree the question: “How do I get unpossessed?” In Chapter 2, she chooses not to seek help from others but to be her own savior. Since she’s an only child in this version, I thought it proper that she act this way. Lenny, of course, would rather be her savior. He’s the “Hero in the background” waiting for his chance to pick up the Joseph Campbell sword and take action.

So…

III

Beware the gates guarded by dragons.

December 20, 2012

Chapter 2

His last class was study hall in the cafeteria and he had ten minutes to give Vree Erickson the gift he had bought her before school closed for Christmas vacation. Surrounded by tripping hazards of plastic and aluminum chairs and long Formica tables, Lenny Stevens zigzagged his way to Vree, sat opposite her and said, “Merry Christmas.” He slid the gift-wrapped box of chocolate covered cherries to her.

“I would have done this at the beginning of class but I had a humongous algebra assignment to finish,” he continued. “Plus, I wasn’t sure if you’d be here. You missed school yesterday and I tried calling last night but your phone kept going to voice mail, so I called your house and your mom said you weren’t feeling well. Then my dad’s car died before we got halfway up Russell Road—”

“You came out to see me?”

“Of course.” He lowered his voice below the whispered excitement from the room of students awaiting the last bell. “I love you.”

Vree slid a gift-wrapped box to him after taking it from her oversized book bag that occupied the empty seat on her right.

Lenny grinned and tore away the gold wrapping paper.

“You shouldn’t have,” he said when he took the gift out of its box. His long fingers slid over the sleek, black iPad. “I mean it. These things are expensive and all I got you was—”

“Never mind that and turn it on. It has everything, including some games.” Vree lowered her voice. “I added one of my favorites. I know you’ll do well at it.”

Lenny’s grin widened when the screen came on and Vree’s youthful face filled the space. “I love the wallpaper,” he said.

“It works both horizontally and vertically. Now take it for a spin.” Vree rose from the table and fetched her chocolates and book bag. “I left one of my workbooks in the library. I’ll be back in a few.” Before she went to Mr. Baretti and interrupted him from his paperback for a hall pass, she whispered to Lenny, “Definitely try out the game I put on there. It’s called Dragon Slayer, my favorite game of all.”

Lenny went through the menu of games until he found Dragon Slayer and opened it.

CHOOSE YOUR SKILL LEVEL, the computer screen said.

He chose BEGINNER from the options offered.

The screen came to life as a red, fire-breathing dragon swooped down from a velvet star-filled sky and laid to waste in a fiery breath the Tolkien-esque village below. Elflike people ran screaming from wooden houses and stone buildings into the cobbled streets.

Lenny marveled the lifelike graphics while, within seconds, the dragon destroyed the living. Red words filled the screen as the dragon and village disappeared into blackness. GAME OVER — 0 POINTS.

He touched the pad and brought the dragon’s fury to life again. This time he brought a centaur from out of the shadows. The mythical creature shot gold arrows from a gold bow at the dragon. Every shot missed and the dragon destroyed the village again.

GAME OVER — 0 POINTS.

He tried again and the centaur sent an arrow into the dragon’s tail. It screeched and banked away into the yellow glow of a full moon. Then it veered back. Little people ran. The centaur shouted orders to unseen comrades. A maiden stepped from an armament shop and gave the centaur a blue arrow.

“Shoot at its heart,” the fair-haired maiden said.

Lenny was pleasantly surprised to hear Vree’s voice come from the computer. He relished the moment until

“Whatcha got there, Stevens?”

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 6

April 17, 2015
Steve Campbell

In this opening chapter of “III” (the third short story in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories), a month has passed since Vree Erickson rescued her mother from a kidnapper rapist.

Here, I changed the POV (point of view) character to a self-centered mechanic. This places Vree’s thoughts, feelings and immediacy offstage temporarily. Now she appears as a minor character and is distant from us. We want to know how she’s feeling, but she isn’t talking to us … she’s no longer one of us. I did this deliberately to convey that there’s been a major change in her personality.

“III” is a possession story and poses to Vree the question: “How do I get unpossessed?” She has become a victim and will need a savior, whether that person is herself or another.

So, with no further explication of structure, operation and circumstances, get comfy and…

III

She said of the ancient crystal, “Be careful of being unkind.”

December 13, 2012

Chapter 1

Something strange had happened to Myers Ridge during its earthquake. A sinkhole appeared in a family’s backyard last month. Immediately, vehicles began stalling on Ridge Road there — even on Russell Road where the two country highways intersected. Not all vehicles stalled, and sometimes a day went by when no cars or trucks stalled. But when they did, business at Morton Twitchel’s garage was good.

Now, Mort sat in his lamp lit sun porch, reading the evening edition of The Ridgewood Gazette chocked full of Christmas ads when he glanced up and saw the car go past his house, heading toward Myers Ridge. By its sleek, aerodynamic shape, Mort knew that sensors and computer chips controlled the vehicle.

He grinned. Then, “Ma,” he hollered toward the living room where the sounds of Wheel of Fortune blared from a TV; “Hey, Ma, I’m going out. Be back later.”

“What about supper?” his mother called back.

“Keep it in the crock. I’ll eat when I get back.” He slipped on his coat and gloves.

“Pick me up some Pepsi…”

“I ain’t going to town—”

“…and some sour cream and onion chips.”

Mort sagged against the storm door and shook his head, but his voice rose with his blood pressure. “I said I ain’t going to town, you stupid old cow. You never listen. Never ever. Just moo, moo, moo, all the time.” He bolted outdoors into December’s gelidity and fought to catch his breath. There, he fired up a Marlboro when the coughing jag subsided, and he felt his strength return after a deep drag from the cigarette.

His long, weak shadow followed him across the crunchy snow. The day’s timid sun had hurried to leave Ridgewood; the last minutes of daylight clutched the western sky. Somewhere, far away, that sun was high and hot and tanning pretty girls in bikinis.

Mort spat a brown hocker — cancer? — then pulled his capillary body into his big truck — a Ford 350 with a Holmes 440 wrecker boom and bed — and hurried onto Russell Road. The tow truck had no engine control unit to manage emissions. It was the only way he could rescue the damn fools from the ridge’s electrical disturbances crippling their vehicles’ fancy engines.

He spotted the dead Nissan at the intersection of Russell and Ridge highways sooner than he expected. It was a fancy car, a wannabe rich person’s car, no doubt circuited with an electronic data recorder and loaded with all sorts of the latest electrical sensors. He parked in front of the stranded vehicle, then dropped to the ground and nearly fell when his knees almost buckled. He tossed away the cigarette and spat before he approached the car.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 5

April 16, 2015
Steve Campbell

In this chapter of Book 2, “Trespassing”, the green crystal uses its mysterious magical powers to aid teenager Vree Erickson to save her mother from a kidnapper rapist and strengthen its control of her.

This is a possession story, though the reader doesn’t know that … not yet. The crystal does a good thing by giving Vree the magic power to travel through time and space to save her mom. It also does bad by (spoiler alert!) using its power to kill the rapist. This puts Vree on the spot and sets up the ancient (and probably overused) dilemma theme of good/right versus bad/wrong. It also poses to Vree the question: “How do I get rid of it?” It’s magic, after all, so it isn’t going to be easy.

But I’m getting too far ahead. Right now, Vree is an innocent—a babe in the wilds of a strange, magic world. This won’t be the case, however, when I publish the revised version of The Green Crystal Stories. After all, she has battled and defeated a witch’s ghost in the novel Night of the Hellhounds. And she has a book of magic spells from that story. But again, I’m getting too far ahead. To see how she has changed, you’ll have to wait for me to publish the book. For now, find a comfortable place to sit and … you know the routine.

Trespassing

Would it be that a destination could be otherworldly?

November 4, 2012

Chapter 2

At a near-empty Walmart parking lot in Ridgewood, a heavy man leered across the passenger seat of a white Impala and out a partially open window. A middle-aged woman bundled in black imitation fur slid from a van’s driver’s seat and dropped onto the black pavement. She wore her blonde hair shoulder length and was dressed in blue jeans and black pumps. She opened a yellow umbrella, looked up at the dark, galling sky, and held up a hand as though trying to catch raindrops. Then she reached far inside the van for a black purse before she hurried across the sparsely lighted lot and entered the store.

The man heard no blip from the automatic door lock on her keychain. He waited a moment, then wiped away fingerprints with a rag from under the seat before he squeezed his large body from behind the steering wheel and wiped away prints from the door. Then he looked at the van in contempt as he crossed behind it.

“Honor this,” he said as he raised a middle finger at the MY CHILD IS AN HONOR STUDENT bumper sticker.

He opened the van’s hydraulic sliding door, which pulled from his grasp and opened itself, and climbed inside on all fours.

The roomy rear interior contained two rows of bench seats. A magazine titled Elle Decor, some paperback books, and a box of glitter crayons littered the first seat. A day planner had fallen behind the passenger seat. He opened the notebook.

“Karrie Erickson,” he said; “I can’t wait to see you naked.”

He flipped away the planner, closed the door (which actually closed itself when he pulled at the handle), and hunkered on the floor of the back row seat. He snatched a crumpled bag from McDonalds beneath the seat in front of him and ate some old fries.

Drippings of sweat pooled across his forehead and mixed with the rain there. He undid the top three buttons of his flannel jacket before he wiped his fat face with his sleeves. He was a short, floppy man with graying hair that seemed to explode from his head. He had a mocking thick-lipped face that appeared angry from behind pudgy grease-stained fingers always lurking there. And his bulbous brown eyes — not so much looking as unable to relax — were forever in motion.

After many minutes, Karrie Erickson returned to her van, got in, tossed two plastic bags on the passenger seat and started the ignition. A pleasant tone from the dashboard reminded her to buckle up. She jabbed at the radio and a lamenting song about lost love encircled her and the mostly concealed intruder behind her.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 4

April 15, 2015
Steve Campbell

When teenager Vree Erickson falls in a sinkhole caused by an earthquake on Myers Ridge, she finds a green crystal and unleashes its mysterious magical powers. She uses its power to escape the hole, whereupon the crystal possesses her and shows her a crime in process: a stranger in town is kidnapping her mother. Vree uses the crystal’s power to save her mother, thereby strengthening the crystal’s control of her.

“Trespassing” is the second short story installment of The Green Crystal Stories—an eerie tale set in and around the town of Ridgewood, PA. It’s also the introduction to the green crystal (which should have been part of the first story).

C.S. Lewis, best known for his fictional work The Chronicles of Narnia said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” I remembered this when I wrote the second book of The Green Crystal Stories. I also recalled his quote: “People (d)on’t write the books I want, so I have to do it for myself.” That was the foundation of The Green Crystal Stories from the beginning: Stories that I wanted to read!

So, sit back, relax, and read on while Vree Erickson encounters earthquakes, sinkholes, and the mysterious power of a magic green crystal.

Trespassing

Would it be that a destination could be otherworldly?

November 4, 2012

Chapter 1

The day after Lenny’s fall from Myers Ridge, magma exploded one hundred miles beneath the ridge and slammed superheated carbon toward the earth’s surface at supersonic speed. It shoved tons of carbonic graphite into the deep bowels of Myers Ridge and shook the limestone remnant created by an ice age more than ten thousand years ago. The shaking caused portions of the ridge to cave in.

Vree Erickson, who had finished mowing the lawn before tonight’s expected snowfall, walked toward the shed to prop open its double doors, unaware of the earthquake until her parents’ backyard vibrated and splintered and opened.

She scrambled to climb from the ground falling with her, but the hole beneath her feet swallowed her and her father’s riding mower.

Her landing was softer than she expected despite the rock and stone she fell on. The John Deere’s landing, however, sounded worse. From skylight filtering through the eye of the hole, she could make out the crumpled edges of the overturned mower a few feet away. She smelled gasoline fumes mixing with the cool, earthy air, and knew that rock had punctured the gas tank.

On her backside twenty feet below her backyard, she shivered and rubbed her arms through her jacket. A miserable wet chill penetrated her clothes and stabbed her skin like a thousand icy knives. She looked around and saw a boxy chamber of stone — a cave no bigger than her bedroom. As she sat up, dim green light from a long protrusion of crystal next to her right leg caught her attention.

The crystal rose diagonally almost fifteen inches from the floor and was nearly six inches in diameter. When she took hold of its smooth and angled sides, the crystal brightened and warmed her palms. She pulled herself closer, wrapped her arms around it, and let its heat and blazing emerald light consume her until she felt her backside stop throbbing and the chill inside her leave.

She marveled at the crystal’s heat, tried to recall if all crystals produced heat, and then wondered how she was going to get out. No one was home to rescue her; her mother had gone shopping and her father was at his office in town. And now, the gray sky spat rain that would eventually turn to snow. The thought left her feeling cold again. She hugged the crystal and wished she could magically fly from the hole.

As she pressed her forehead against the crystal and told herself that she would be okay, that one of her parents would rescue her as soon as they got home, the ground shook again.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 3

April 14, 2015
Steve Campbell

I’m continuing to add the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, in chapter-by-chapter installments. Today’s chapter is the final one from the 2013 short story, “Night of the Hellhounds.” This was the first book of five in The Green Crystal Stories and had nothing to do with the title, which is why I’m rewriting the book.

So, sit back, relax if you can, and read on while teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson continue encountering ghosts and demon dogs … and struggle to survive atop the mysterious Myers Ridge.

Night of the Hellhounds

Beware the strangeness at night that it may come for you.

November 3, 2012

Chapter 3

“They’re after me,” Dave yelled as he ran from around the side of the barn and headed toward them. “Get in the tents. Hurry.”

In a puff of red smoke, the Rottweiler appeared in front of Dave, blocking the way.

Dave skidded to a stop and stared wildly at the dog. Then he bolted to his right and vanished into the field and darkness there.

Two hounds glowing green raced into view from around the side of the barn and charged after him.

The Rottweiler followed, almost flying across the ground as it too vanished in the dark.

“They’re heading toward Widow’s Ravine,” Lenny said. “We have to help—”

Just then, horrible howls from below the hill filled the air. Amy and Vree screamed as they stared down the hillside. The remaining dogs charged the hill.

“They’re real,” Amy said before she tore past Lenny, the blanket dropping to the ground. Vree followed, close at her heels.

Lenny looked once more at the hellish ghost dogs coming at him before he raced after the girls heading to Mr. Evans’s house, which was lit up inside and looked so safe and inviting.

“But what about Dave?” he called out.

The girls kept running, but he stopped. His best friend was being chased to a dangerous place with sinkholes and cliffs. He turned and hurried after Dave as the remaining hellhounds crested the hill and raced after him.

He plowed blindly into brambles and thorny weeds that slapped and poked and grabbed him, scratched his face and hands, and scarred his clothes and shoes.

The hellhounds closed their distance quickly. His drumming heart climbed into his throat when he realized he couldn’t outrun them. Still, he shielded his face with his arms as he pushed on.

The dangerous terrain looked foreign in the low-lit night, yet he followed the sound of the hellhounds ahead of him and thought only of Dave’s safety.

His inhales and exhales sounded like whimpers and moans when moonlight broke through the clouds and he burst through the confining brambles at a clearing atop a steep cliff of Myers Ridge.

Dave 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.

Lenny hurried and kicked at the Rottweiler’s backside, hoping to punt it over the cliff. Instead, his foot went through the apparition and he landed on his backside.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 2

April 13, 2015
Steve Campbell

As I said in my last blog post, while I rewrite the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, I am offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments. Today’s chapter is from the 2013 short story, “Night of the Hellhounds.” This is different from the novel with the same name that I wrote last year. Here, Dave, Amy and Vree are friends instead of siblings like in the novel, and Dave and Amy live where Lenny lives in the novel. Also, Ben and Cathleen Myers aren’t Lenny’s great-grandparents in this story (Ben is Reginald Myers in the novel), and the strange Ademia Savakis appears here like she did in my original story published online a decade ago.

Sit back, relax if you can, and read on while teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson encounter ghosts and demon dogs and struggle to survive atop the mysterious Myers Ridge.

Night of the Hellhounds

Beware the strangeness at night that it may come for you.

November 3, 2012

Chapter 2

“Who are you?” Dave said, almost shouting, which drew Vree’s and Amy’s attention. “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 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.

“This parcel of land is owned by Margaret Evans,” she replied as she strolled to stand next to the fire between Dave and the rest of them.

“She’s our grandmother,” Dave said. “Our dad lives here now.”

“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 Lenny and lingered with a puzzled, yet bewitching gaze.

He held her gaze until Dave asked, “How can we help you?”

She looked away and said, “I must rest a moment. The journey here has tired me.”

She sat 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 Lenny, then to Vree, and then to him again.

“I don’t know you two,” she said.

Continue Reading

Green Crystal, chapter 1

April 12, 2015
Steve Campbell

I am rewriting the stories that appeared in my 2014 book, The Green Crystal Stories, and published at Amazon for a short while before I shelved it. Why did I shelve it after I spent months designing the cover and editing the writing to what I considered a polish? Because it wasn’t done. By the time my readers reached the last sentence of the last story, they discovered that I hadn’t resolved the main character’s major problem. “To be continued” I wrote at the end, which, in hindsight, wasn’t fair to everyone who expected a true ending. So, I am republishing the book with a true ending this year and offer it free as often as Amazon will allow. I owe it to my readers.

Meanwhile, between writing and polishing that ending, I am offering the original stories here in chapter-by-chapter installments. The first one is the short story, “Night of the Hellhounds.” This is different from the novel with the same name that I wrote last year. For example, friends Dave and Amy Evans and Vree Erickson are siblings in the novel, and Lenny Stevens lives where Dave and Amy live in the short story. If you’re confused, read the novel for clarification, drop me an email, or both.

Anyway, in the short story, “Teenagers Lenny Stevens, Dave and Amy Evans, and Vree Erickson encounter ghosts and demons and struggle to survive atop mysterious Myers Ridge.”

Night of the Hellhounds

Beware the strangeness at night that it may come for you.

November 3, 2012

Chapter 1

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 and 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.

Continue Reading

Free Book Friday

November 19, 2014
Steve Campbell

My eBook Night of the Hellhounds: A Ridgewood Novel is free at Amazon for the Kindle e-reader this Friday. You can download a copy directly by clicking on this link.

Here is the official cover I created for the book, so look for this cover when getting it.

The novel replaces a short story I had published 2013 at Amazon and is no longer in print. However, the short story is featured at the end of the novel, along with two other versions of the story—my gift to you.

Happy reading.

Promo Week for Night of the Hellhounds

November 17, 2014
Steve Campbell

My fantasy novel Night of the Hellhounds is free this week, beginning tomorrow, Tuesday (the 18th) and ending Saturday (the 22nd) for its 5-day promotion at Amazon. Get it free for your Kindle by going to this Amazon.com page on those dates. Its price will return to $.99 after that.

About the Novel

This is the novelization of “Night of the Hellhounds” short story published January 2013. Whereas the short story was about Lenny Stevens, the novel centers on his friend and neighbor, 15-year-old Vree Erickson, a girl destined by the fates to die during the summer unless she can change her fate.

From the Back Cover

Vree Erickson’s life has gone from bad to worse. She left the lawnmower in the rain and lightning killed her father and burned down her family’s home. To complicate matters even more, the lightning struck her and left her with psychic powers.
Now, Vree and her family are forced to move to her maternal grandparents’ home on Myers Ridge, a strange place near Ridgewood, Pennsylvania. There, July fifth marks the annual “Night of the Hellhounds”—a time when a vengeful spirit witch and her hellhounds return to the property next door every year and reign terror there until midnight.
Unfortunately, try as she may, Vree is unable to ignore the strangeness around her or the witch who wants to take away her powers and kill her. With the help of the cute boy from up the road and mysterious creatures that only they can see, Vree embarks on a difficult journey to save her life and destroy the ghost witch who wants her dead.

The Cover

I drew, painted, and designed the cover by hand and scanned it to my computer, then brought the elements together with a stripped-down version of Adobe Photoshop, and added text via Microsoft Word.

Cover

Cover

Book Delay

November 15, 2014
Steve Campbell

The publication of my latest e-book Night of the Hellhounds has been delayed due to problems at Amazon. I apologize to my customers for any inconvenience, especially to those who may have received the old edition instead of the new one. I am working on fixing the problem and hope to have the new book out by Monday, November 17.

An Exuberant Thank You

June 17, 2014
Steve Campbell

Although I try to limit using adjectives in my writing, I could not resist putting one in this post’s title.

Thanks to everyone who took advantage of my FREE eBOOK giveaway. I hope I garnered some new readers, new fans, and new friends. If you do reviews, please go to my author’s page at Amazon.com and click on the book(s).

Comments are encouraged and appreciated.

Thanks again and have a great day.

Last Free Day for Ridgewood Sparks

June 16, 2014
Steve Campbell

Sorry about the commercial, friends; I will make it quick.

Today is the last day to get your FREE copy of my e-book Ridgewood Sparks: A Collection of Really Short Stories at Amazon.com worldwide.

Follow this link to get Ridgewood Sparks for your Kindle.

Have a great Monday everybody.

New eBook Update

June 15, 2014
Steve Campbell

Days after I published my latest e-book Ridgewood Sparks: A Collection of Really Short Stories at Amazon.com on June 6, and then a day or two before the current “Get My Book Free” offer, I noticed errors and made minor changes to the book’s text. If you bought my book before the changes, I urge you to take advantage of the free offer today and tomorrow and replace the old version with the revised one. Although the changes are small, I think they make Ridgewood Sparks a better read.

Meanwhile, I send a big shout out “Thank You” to everyone who supports my enterprise into this crazy world of self-digital-publishing. (Or is it digital-self-publishing?) Big supporters include my family, friends, readers, and fans who ask, “When’s your next book coming out?” You keep my nose to the grindstone.

If you haven’t done so already, follow this link to get your free, updated e-book offer of Ridgewood Sparks for your Kindle.

Attention! … Correction

June 14, 2014
Steve Campbell

My new e-book Ridgewood Sparks is free tomorrow and Monday, not today as I originally posted. Sorry about the error. Click here to get your copy at Amazon, starting tomorrow.

New eBook Giveaway Weekend

June 12, 2014
Steve Campbell

Once again, to all my readers, fans and followers, I’m offering another free e-book—this time to kick off Father’s Day Weekend. (If that isn’t a thing, it should be.) An e-book of 12 really short (and awesome) stories, Ridgewood Sparks is available at Amazon worldwide beginning Saturday, June 14 and running all day Sunday, June 15. As always, the book is available to lend out to family and friends.

An excerpt of one of the stories, “A Buzzing of Bees”:

Brian pushed hanging branches away from his face. This part of the woods on Myers Ridge was thick with broadleaf and coniferous trees, and infested with thorny blackberry and raspberry bushes. These barbed sentries were deep in cover, away from hungry predators and ambitious and adventurous gardeners with spades and pruning shears. But few people trespassed here on his land. The terrain was rough and steep in many places and challenging to walk over. Thick and thorny underbrush, stinging nettle, and rattlesnakes were common threats, including branches falling from trees infected by disease and acid rain attacking their roots.

From “A Sinister Blast from the Past”:

Inside this cold and sterile environment, I am a prisoner of time, a prisoner of fate, a prisoner to the cruel circumstances that have left me unable to communicate to the people around me. They pass me and I go unnoticed by them. Without a name I am nobody. Without a voice I am nothing more than a silent pet that must be fed and bathed and taken care of. Unable to move I am less than that.

From “Dead Rabbits Don’t Run”:

I smell it again. Past hemlock and below hill the aroma is coming from man’s wooden lodge, drifting to me on smoke from most powerful and burning my nose with the fragrance of the blood of my sins. Although my eyes are closed, I know that if they were open I would still see the tormenting image of man eating his bloodless rabbit meal: chewing, always chewing; licking fingers clean; sucking bare every tawny bone; he will leave no bloodless meat behind. Before he sleeps tonight, he will bury bones into ground behind his lodge near where I committed my first crime. If I could move, I would run to there now and commit one last sin by digging up bones and feasting on marrow for the remainder of my short, pathetic life.

And nine more short tales of fantasy, a bit of horror, all set in and around peculiar and eerie Ridgewood, Pennsylvania.

Follow this link to get your free e-book, Ridgewood Sparks for Kindle on June 14 and 15.

Have a good read … and a great Father’s Day Weekend!

Free Kismet Weekend

June 4, 2014
Steve Campbell

To all my readers, fans and followers, a quick post to let you know that you can get a free e-book version of my novella, Kismet, at Amazon.com beginning tomorrow, June 7 and ending after Sunday, June 8. Though the standard U.S. dollar price is only $.99, I always like to offer something free to people who appreciate what I do. The book is available to lend, too, so you can loan Kismet out to family and friends.

BTW, this is book 4 of the compilation book, The Green Crystal Stories. However, if you do not own TGCS, I wrote Kismet as a standalone book outside the lives of Vree Erickson and her friends.

Follow this link, free Kismet offer! on June 7 and 8 to get your free e-book.

Have a great weekend!

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 4

May 27, 2014
Steve Campbell

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

FOUR

Darkness took away the heat and cooled her.  When she opened her eyes, she knew she had been asleep.  For how long, she wasn’t sure.  She wasn’t sure of anything, except that her throat hurt.  The bed she lay in was a stranger’s; unknown faces peered down at her.  She panicked, unable to breathe.  Someone pulled a long tube from her throat and she was able to breathe again.  Outside a window near her bed, rain fell in torrents against the glass.  Lightning lit up the sky and frightened her.

She knew not where she was or who she was, except that she was terrified of the lightning filling the sky.

* * *

Aunt Peggy lay in her hospital bed and stared weakly at Brian.  To the right of her, a January blizzard fell outside her window.  “Heather is trapped in the past.”

“So what can I do?”  Brian stared dumbly at the diary in his hands.  “The police think I’m crazy, that I killed my wife.”

“You have to save her.  You have to go back.  Keep her from killing herself.”

“How?”

“Go back to the cave.  The answer is there.”

“How can you be sure?”

“Because it is.  You have to believe.”  She closed her eyes.

Brian sat for an hour and listened to Aunt Peggy’s irregular breathing while he read again Jane’s diary.  Then he prayed.  For what it was worth, he got some satisfaction from begging to God.  When he stepped from the room, he knew, as crazy as it seemed to the rational part of his mind, that there had to be a way to save Heather.  And the answer did lie within those green crystals and lightning.

* * *

It was the third week of August, not long after a terrible thunderstorm had passed through Ridgewood, when some teenage boys hiking Magic Hill stumbled upon Brian Stevens’s Grand Cherokee parked atop a rise.  A police officer remembered Brian’s name and his incredible story about his wife disappearing inside the cave.

The guy was surely insane and had killed his wife, only they were never able to find her body to prove it.

Now, inside the cave once more, the officer and his partner found an overturned tent containing a sleeping bag, a dozen empty cases of canned spaghetti, soup and vegetables, and three one-gallon containers of water that would later turn out to be rainwater.  They also found some books about lightning, local history from the 1940s, and theories on time travel.

Once more, they found no one—not even a body—inside the cave.

* * *

The amnesic woman known as Jane sat slumped in her oversized wheelchair.  Nurse Rachel Watkins had parked Jane’s chair again in front of the parlor’s largest window so she could look out at the hilly, tree-lined block of neighborhood.  Rachel brought her here every morning and claimed that looking at the woodland section of Victorian houses could help bring back memories of Jane’s past.  Rachel had even bought her a diary so she could record her thoughts and memories inside.

Jane squinted past the silver-gray skylight stabbing through the large window.  It was July, but the Pennsylvania sky looked far from being a kind one.  Thunder sounded.  The Tuesday morning skylight outdoors darkened and threatened to pour down rain.  Alone, Jane looked at the silver wedding and engagement rings she wore and wondered what it was like to have a husband, to sit with, hand in hand, and watch it rain.

Lightning lit up the sky.  She looked again out the window.  Beyond the sloping lawn that ran to Henry Burkhart’s black iron gate barring the sidewalk, a man dressed in a long black raincoat stood at the bars.  A sleek blue car with lots of chrome was parked behind him.  Two boys in yellow plastic raincoats scurried past as the man looked through the bars at the house and the window.

He waved to her.

A flash of lightning and clap of thunder made her shoulders jump, but it was the stranger now striding through the gate and heading to the front door that made her heart beat faster.

She balled her hands into tight fists and listened for the sound of the doorbell.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 3

May 19, 2014
Steve Campbell

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

THREE

Heather left Aunt Peggy’s hospital room and found comfort in Brian’s arms.  An intracerebral hemorrhage had left Aunt Peggy comatose.

“Let’s go,” Heather said.  She left ICU doctors and nurses busy lowering Aunt Peggy’s blood pressure and providing life support and comfort.

Odors of antiseptic and sanitizer alcohol wafted through the fluorescent-green hallway and mingled with last night’s waxing of the corridor’s cream-colored tiles.  Heather hurried Brian past that other smell, the pungent one that came from the dying.

Outside, the sky was cerulean and ultramarine, and the morning sun burned bright above the southern horizon.  Heather filled her lungs and left her parka open to the unseasonably warm weather.  The land was white and wet beyond the paved black landscape where Brian had parked his Grand Cherokee among four rows of gleaming vehicles.  Around them, the tiny hospital seemed too busy with traffic driving in and out of the visitors’ lot.

“Does the whole damned town have to get sick during the holiday?”  She climbed inside the Jeep and waited for Brian.  She saw two suitcases in the backseat.

“I have three days of vacation left,” Brian said when he got in.  “I called your boss and extended yours.  We have a room with a Jacuzzi with our name on it, ski slopes if we want to ski, and the weekend for just the two of us.”  He drove past the big green sign directing them to Myers Ridge Ski Resort.

Heather almost protested.  Aunt Peggy’s warning, “Never go there,” clanged inside her head.  Brian reached for her and found a hand.  He squeezed.  “I love you,” he said.  He brushed her thigh, first outside, then in.  He reached for her shoulders and pulled her as close to him as her seatbelt would allow.  He wanted to cuddle and that meant one thing.  She held him off with promises.

Check-in at the lodge was quick but barely fast enough for either Brian or Heather.  It had been too long since they had made love in a bed other than their own.

Inside their two-hundred-dollar-a-day room, which last year’s American Resort magazine gave five stars, Heather made true on many of her promises.

* * *

When she and Brian exited their room two days later, most of the snow around Ridgewood had melted.  The ski resort was busy making its own snow to keep customers happily skiing, despite the almost summer temperature.  Heather and Brian went to Eagle Rock Incline to take in the view of Ridgewood.  At 630 feet up, they could see ravines and drumlins and several gulches and dry washes between Ridgewood and the outskirts of New Cambridge to the east.  The marker they stood next to said they were on Magic Hill.

“I thought this was Myers Ridge,” Heather said.

“The ridge is made up of several hills.  Magic Hill is one of them.”

“Magic Hill.”  Heather looked around.  “I wonder what’s so magical about it.”

“I know it had some sort of significance to the Indians living here. But that’s all I know.”

Heather pointed to a clearing a half-mile down the valley.  “Is that a cave where those big rocks are?”

Brian squinted.  “Probably.  Where there are hills this big there’s bound to be a cave or two.”

“I’ve never been in a cave.  Maybe we could make it our own special place.”  She stood on tiptoes and kissed him.

* * *

Along the woodsy and rocky terrain, they scratched at invisible gnats buzzing around the back of their necks.  They reached the cave an hour later.  Brian had to stoop to enter the cave, which was immediately cold and damp and musty smelling.  They stayed close to the entrance where sunlight warmed them.

Heather and Brian found a spot of smooth granite to sit on.  Heather straddled Brian’s lap.

“There might be bear,” Brian said.

“I don’t care.”  Heather undid his belt and pants; they made love, fast and wild the way they had when they were dating.  When they finished, both shivered uncontrollably.  The sunlight was gone.

“Should have brought our coats,” Brian said when he was dressed.  He ventured into the large chamber, his eyes now adjusted to dim daylight twenty feet above them.  He stopped at a small pile of rubble formed by the collapse of the cave’s ceiling.  A long, thin finger of daylight pointed from the chimney-like shaft of the surface sinkhole above.

“Someday,” he said, “all this will come crashing down.”

“Not today.”  Heather went to him and pulled at him.  “Come on.  I think I heard thunder.”

Brian listened to a faraway rumble.  “I think you’re right.  If we get a cold front mixing with this warm weather, we’re gonna have a hell of a storm.”  He hurried to the entryway where a sprinkle of rain began to fall outside.  A sudden flash of lightning sent him stumbling backwards into Heather.  She fell and cried out.

“My ankle.”  She rubbed her left foot.  “It really hurts.”  Heather’s red nose peeked up at him.  Mucus dropped from the tip of her nose.  She swiped at it with the back of a hand.  “I can’t move my foot.”

Brian took her by the arm and helped her up.  She leaned on his shoulder and hobbled to the narrow entryway.  Along the way, he heard a clatter upon the ground and saw that Heather had dislodged his cell phone.  He tried to reach for it, but Heather cried out from the pain.  He’d come back for his phone later.

At the cave’s threshold, Heather pressed close to him, to try to make their passage easier, but Brian struck his forehead against the stone.

“Sit down,” he said, rubbing at the lump growing on his head.  “I’ll drag you out.”

“I think it’s broken.  It’s really aching now.  Let me rest.”

Brian helped her back inside.

A sudden wind whipped through the entrance and sprayed them with cold rain.  Brian pulled Heather further inside.  The storm suddenly stilled.  A faint humming sound came from above them, inside the cave.

Brian’s ring finger ached; his wedding ring vibrated.

Heather swatted at her temple.  “Something just stung me,” she complained.

The sky outside lit up.  Lightning entered the sinkhole and struck the cave floor a few feet from where Brian’s cell phone lay.  The floor exploded.  Stony shrapnel flew past them.  Brian threw himself to the floor; Heather clutched his back and trembled.

The walls began to emit green light in places.  Another lightning bolt entered the sinkhole and struck one of the large green lights.  More shrapnel rained down on them.  The other lights grew brighter.  Brian examined one of the lights nearest to him.  The light came from a stone, which was wide and faceted and shaped like a crystal.  It warmed his hands at the touch; he welcomed the warmth as it coursed through him.

He saw his phone and crawled to it.

Heather screamed.  “What is that?  Oh my god what is that?  Brian.”

Brian turned and saw a green whirlwind of light three meters in diameter above Heather’s head.  Miniature lightning shot from the walls of the whirlwind.  It twisted faster as the green lights around them grew brighter.

Heather put up an arm as though trying to ward off a blow as the whirlwind fell upon her.

A bolt of lightning from the sinkhole struck the whirlwind.  A blinding flash of light caused Brian to cover his head.  Hot wind and stone blew across his back.  Then it was gone.

When Brian opened his eyes, the light was ebbing.

The lightning had stopped.

The whirlwind and Heather were gone.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 2

May 11, 2014
Steve Campbell

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

TWO

Heather gave Brian pajamas and slippers at Christmas.  She didn’t read the diary.  Instead, she mailed it to Aunt Peggy’s store.

Three days later, the diary returned.  Heather knew it was the diary as soon as she took the package from the mailbox.  She called her great-aunt.

“I’m bringing back the book,” she said.

“Read it,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Please.  You must.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“It’s the only way to stop it from happening again.”  The line went dead.

Heather slowly opened the package.  She had better things to do with her time than to entertain an aunt who was obviously crazy.

The diary stayed on the table untouched for several minutes before she opened it and whisked the photo of the crippled woman to the back of the book.

At the front, the pages began as scribbles by an unsteady hand.

Today, nine-year-old, Sara Burkhart, stands behind my enormous wheelchair and brushes my long hair.

“Don’t move, Jane,” she tells me with her usual hollow order.  “I’m almost done.”

Static electricity from my hair fills the brush and irritates her.

“Stop that, Jane,” she says, as though I’m the one responsible for the electricity.

My name isn’t Jane.  But I don’t tell her.  It does no good to argue with her; I don’t know my name.

The mansion’s employees bring me to this parlor every morning to watch the traffic.  Nurse Rachel hopes it will help bring back the memories of my past and fill an empty mind that’s become a blank slate.  I’m supposed to write about anything that looks familiar, but nothing about Burkhart Mansion or the street outside looks even vaguely familiar.

Outside today, the snow-filled sloping lawn runs out to a large black iron fence where a snowplowed street lies beyond.  There, an occasional large and angry-looking car or truck grumbles past me.  I remember snow, but I don’t know why.  Everything I know about myself—little as it is—came two months ago, after I awakened from a coma inside one of the large, upstairs bedrooms.  Henry Burkhart, the man who owns this mansion, visited and told me about myself.

Henry is a cigar-smoking, black-haired man in his early forties with smartly styled wavy hair.  He wore a shiny suit as dark as his steel-blue eyes that day, and a red silk tie that glistened bright against a white shirt.  He spoke with an even, soothing voice, and gestured with clean white hands with manicured nails.

“It was a Sunday,” he told me, “nine years ago in August when I found you.  I was hiking Myers Ridge, looking for arrowheads and whatnot.”  He smiled pleasantly at me.  “I’m an aggregator … a collector.  Numismatist and philatelist, mostly.”  I didn’t bother to interrupt him to find out what those words meant.

He said, “That’s when I found you unconscious and near death at the bottom of a ravine not far from the highway.  I could tell your legs were broken, so I fashioned a stretcher with my jacket and got you to my car where I drove you to the hospital.  You were nine years in a coma while the authorities tried to find out who you are.  You had no identification.”

At this point, Henry looked me the way I imagine he looks at an unusual artifact.  “No family has ever been found.  That’s why the hospital released you to me.”  He frowned then, as though discovering a flaw in me.  “Your fingerprints have revealed nothing, which isn’t a bad thing.  It simply means we may never know who you are … unless your memory returns.  Until then, you’re a living Jane Doe, which is why I call you Jane.”

I saw no malevolence on his face when he said, “Until your memory returns or someone recognizes you as family, my home is yours.”

I managed to tell him how thankful I was.  I still am.

Heather skipped a few months ahead.  There, the handwriting became stronger—familiar.

The weather is stormy.  I don’t care for lightning.  My head hurts when there’s a storm.

Henry is overseas on a business trip.  The war over there has everyone on edge.

I saw Sara’s teacher for the first time today.  I watched curiously from my wheelchair as Doris the housekeeper answered the door and let in Sara’s red-haired teacher.  After Miss Johnson removed her fur coat and gave it to the housekeeper, she came to Nurse Rachel and me waiting for the elevator.  She ushered a friendly good morning to us, whereupon I sensed a familiarity with the woman.  It wrestled with the constant cloudiness in my mind as something—a memory, I think—tried to surface.  The clouds parted for a moment and I saw Miss Johnson dead, lying in an open coffin.  I knew I was seeing Miss Johnson in the future because her face and hands appeared very old.

I cried out then.

The clouds returned; dizziness overcame me and my senses spiraled into a smoky darkness.  I dimly heard Miss Johnson apologize for frightening me.  When my vision cleared, Miss Johnson was gone and Rachel was peering into my eyes.

She pulled me into the elevator and took me to my room, whereupon she filled me with medicine and caused me to sleep most of the day.

Heather flipped to the last entry.  She squirmed when she recognized the handwriting; there was no mistaking her own unique flourish.

As of last night, I know who I am.

I am not of this time.

I don’t know how I came here, or how I can ever go back.  But it’s too late now; I took the pills.

They’ll bury me above a gravestone with the wrong name.  I am Jane Doe.

They think I’m mad, that I’ve lost my senses when I tell them I’m from the future and that my name is Heather Stevens.

Heather threw down the book as though it had bitten her.  She picked up the phone and dialed.

“Sara was Heather’s daughter,” Aunt Peggy said when Heather calmed down.  “Your daughter.”

“The woman who died at your store?”

“I saw the uncanny resemblance in you and Sara when you and Brian moved here.  Sara never resembled anyone in the Burkhart family.  That was the tip-off.  She eventually had her blood tested and discovered that Henry Burkhart was not her father.  She finally sent some DNA to a friend who does genetic testing.  The results came back last week.”

Heather moaned.  “Please don’t say it,” she said, but Aunt Peggy continued.

“Sara was your daughter.  Jane was you.  You came from the future, pregnant, and gave birth while in a coma.  No one knew.  Henry Burkhart never told anyone.”

“That’s ridiculous.  Preposterous.  Impossible.  Do you hear me?  Impossible.”

“Heather—”

“No.  Stop it.”

“Heather, I … I—”

The phone clunked on the other end; Heather knew that it had been dropped.

“Aunt Peggy?”

The line was silent.

Free Kismet Story, Chapter 1

May 3, 2014
Steve Campbell

Kismet is a short story that went through many rewrites before I presented it as part of The Ridgewood Chronicles series several years ago. This version is basically the story at Amazon, told in 4 chapters before I decided to rewrite it, add more chapters, and change the ending. Enjoy.

KISMET

Copyright © Steven L Campbell

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

William Shakespeare

ONE

Heather Stevens drove her silver Volvo through Ridgewood’s frigid downtown district where the streets were ablaze with Christmas decorations and colored lights.  The snowplowed streets glistened with ice, so Heather babied the drive toward her great-aunt’s bookstore.  Main Street was empty; most of the town traveled to bigger New Cambridge, five miles away, where discount stores were a major attraction this time of year.

Her cell phone buzzed.  Her husband Brian wouldn’t be home until after nine o’clock.  He still had many student art projects to grade at New Cambridge University before he could start his Christmas vacation.

Heather returned the phone to her coat pocket and drove with both hands gripped around the steering wheel.  Snow was falling again and she couldn’t afford another accident on these streets kept barely plowed.

With a population of almost eight thousand, downtown Ridgewood was small, with two banks, a post office, a few diners and bars, and Peggy’s Good Used Books sandwiched between a hardware store and a pizzeria.  Heather managed to park off the street in front of her aunt’s bookstore and upstairs apartment, but she had to battle piles of snow to get to the store.  Inside, a tiny bell above the door announced her entrance.  The place smelled of lilacs and aging paper, two fragrances that immediately lifted her spirits.

She called out and announced her arrival while she hung her black parka on the tree next to the door.  A distant voice responded from the back; she made her way through a tunnel of shelves and entered a room full of unsorted books and magazines.  Plastic bags, cardboard boxes, paper sacks and volumes of text littered the room’s tables, benches and floor.  In the center of the room, a fluorescent light flickered and buzzed overhead.  Directly beneath it, her great-aunt sat at a tiny desk.  The small woman with short hair dyed red stared into a computer monitor and slowly clicked at the keyboard below it.  In front of Aunt Peggy’s desk, an old woman looked at Heather from a wooden chair.

Heather said to Aunt Peggy, “I’m really excited you were able to find that art history book for Brian’s collection.  He has so many already, I was about to give up and just get him some pajamas and slippers.”

“My sister Jean’s granddaughter,” Aunt Peggy said to the woman.  She punched a key and studied the figures on the monitor’s large screen.  “Heather and her husband moved here in July.  He’s from Pittsburgh, she’s from New Cambridge.”

“The lake,” the woman across the desk said.  “Is that what brought you here?”  She coughed and sniffled and took a Kleenex from the box on the desk, and then gently brought it to her blue nose.  She was bundled in a heavy, brown fur coat, yet Heather saw that she shivered.  Despite the folds of skin that hung below her chin, and her thin white hair that barely concealed sagging earlobes adorned with mother-of-pearl earrings, Heather felt certain that the woman’s age was several years less than Aunt Peggy’s.

The woman sniffled again.  “They always come because of the lake.”

“But it’s Myers Ridge they don’t know about,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Show her the diary.”

The woman took a black leather book from her coat pocket.  She stood and waited for Heather to come for the book.  When Heather did, the woman peered at Heather’s face.

“It’s her,” she said.  She sat quickly and shivered harder.

Heather held out a hand and introduced herself.  The woman said, “Forgive me if I don’t shake your hand.  Please don’t take it personal.”

Heather looked quizzically at Aunt Peggy.

“Look at the picture,” Aunt Peggy said.  Heather saw that she trembled, too.  Aunt Peggy’s delicate look—like a china doll that could easily break—always made Heather uneasy.  The woman was eighty-three, after all, and still living in Pennsylvania’s Snow Belt.

Despite the heat that nearly choked the room, Heather said, “Would you like me to turn up the thermostat?”

“No, girl,” Aunt Peggy said.  “I want you to look inside the book.”

Heather found an empty chair near Aunt Peggy’s guest and opened the diary.  Inside, on the first page, someone had scrawled JANE DOE in large blue letters.  After that, doodles and scribbles filled its thin pages.  She leafed through the book and a square Polaroid photograph tumbled out and fell to the floor.  When she picked it up, a woman’s miserable, hollow-eyed face looked out at her from the black and white picture.  The woman’s wide mouth grimaced with a queer bit of happiness on a face otherwise lined with anguish.  An anorexic body became lost in an oversized sweatshirt, Capri slacks and metal wheelchair.  Heather quickly turned the photo over.  On the back, someone had elegantly written in blue ink, Jane—1943.

“What I’m about to say will sound incredible,” Aunt Peggy said.

“Unbelievable,” the other woman said.

Both women stared hard at Heather.  She squirmed.  Her hands felt swollen and prickly as she studied the photo and listened.

“Lord help me,” Aunt Peggy said. “It took me a long time to figure this out, and when I did … well, even I couldn’t believe it.”  She looked at the other woman who stared down at her hands.  “But thanks to modern medicine with its blood testing and DNA, the craziness became plausible, even if it did become crazier to believe.”  She looked back.

“I’m sorry,” Heather said, “but whatever you’re trying to tell me, perhaps you should start at the beginning.”

“That’s you.”  Aunt Peggy pointed at the photograph still in Heather’s grasp.  “Can’t you see the resemblance?”

“Don’t be silly.”  Heather swallowed.  She looked at the photograph.  “This isn’t me.”  She waved the photo at Aunt Peggy.  “Stop messing around.  I still have Christmas shopping to finish, presents to wrap, pies to bake.”

“That’s a picture of my mother,” the other woman said.

“See,” Heather said and frowned at Aunt Peggy.  “Why would you say such a thing?”

“Because you’re my mother,” the woman next to her said.  “I’m your daughter.”

“This is crazy.”  Heather began to stand.

“It’s true,” Aunt Peggy said.  “We can prove it.”

The overhead light sputtered, as though affected by Aunt Peggy’s insanity.  The sputtering turned the old women’s movements into jerky motion as they looked at each other and then back at her, like in a Nickelodeon movie from long ago.  Heather felt almost transported back in time.  Then the sputtering stopped and the room was almost bright again.

“I’m leaving.”  Heather stood.

“Please,” Aunt Peggy said.  “It’s up to you to see that history doesn’t repeat itself.”

Heather tossed the diary and photograph on Aunt Peggy’s desk.

“You owe it to yourself and to me,” the other woman said.  “I don’t want the next me to grow up isolated from her real parents.”  She reached out and touched Heather’s right hand.  A large spark of static electricity snapped.  Heather jumped back and yelped while the woman slumped forward and fell hard to the floor.

For a moment, time moved in slow motion.  Then, Aunt Peggy was at the woman’s side, checking for a pulse.

“Call 911,” she said to Heather.

Heather rubbed at the pain pulsating through her wrist and arm as she started toward the phone on Aunt Peggy’s desk.  Suddenly, it became difficult for her to breathe.  The pain grew, traveled to her shoulder.  The room shifted and turned; her stomach flip-flopped.  She stumbled from the desk, managed to sidestep the two women on the floor, and staggered to the bathroom at the back of the room.  She fell against two tables before she fell through the bathroom door.  On her knees, she vomited loud into the toilet.  Her body shook violently.  When she finished, Aunt Peggy stood at her side.

“I-I’m … f-freezing,” Heather said.  She pushed herself up, into Aunt Peggy’s embrace.  Then she stumbled along as Aunt Peggy led her to the desk.

The two looked at the corpse on the floor; a green afghan covered the body.  A siren sounded from far away.  Outside, December wind whipped against the store; a window rattled.

“Stay away from Myers Ridge,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Please promise me you’ll never go there.”

Heather swallowed and felt sick again.  “Aunt Peggy,” she said.  The room began a slow twirl.  She tried to focus her eyes, located the window and watched large flakes of snow swirl past.  A flashing light from the ambulance outside caused the twirling to increase.  She closed her eyes and said a small prayer for herself and the dead woman.  When she opened her eyes, a paramedic was bandaging the red and angry welt that appeared on the back of her hand.

“I’m okay,” she told the concerned paramedic, and was glad when he left her.

After the body and paramedics were gone, Aunt Peggy returned to the room.  Heather was standing, feeling better, although the room still spun when she turned.

“You should go upstairs and rest,” Aunt Peggy said.

“I’ll be okay.”  Heather started to leave.

“Don’t forget the diary,” Aunt Peggy said.  “Read it.  Please.  We’ll discuss it later.”

Heather turned and was forced to close her eyes as the room whirled.  The diary was placed in her hands and she was led to her coat.  She may have kissed her aunt goodbye, but while she shuffled to her car, she wasn’t sure.  Not even the winter chill brought her back to her senses as she sat in her car and watched through the icy windshield the lights go off downstairs in the bookstore.

The drive home went unnoticed as her mind repeated the events at the bookstore; questions whirled.  At home, she popped some popcorn in the microwave, stared at the TV, then curled up on the sofa and fell asleep.

Her dreams were washes of senseless images.  Then a hand touched her shoulder and reality flowed over her like a cold ocean wave, chilling her.  She tried to smile at Brian, but her face wouldn’t work, so she stared at the sight of him for several moments before she broke into tears and bawled.

Free Book Weekend

February 28, 2014
Steve Campbell

Starting today and right to midnight (US eastern time) Sunday night, the Kindle version of The Green Crysta Stories is free at Amazon.com.

Click on this link to get your free copy.

Happy reading.

If anyone is a member of GoodReads, stop at my author page and let’s hook up.

Free Book February 28—March 2

February 20, 2014
Steve Campbell

[Steve Campbell] may have discovered a way to turn the written word into something like a fine wine that gets better with age. Humor, darkness, adventure, friendship … I love it all! (Review by Bruce at Amazon.com.)

Kindle readers, mark your calendars!

My e-book The Green Crystal Stories will be free again for your Kindle at Amazon.com from February 28 to March 2, 2014.

Click on this link to get your copy.

Already have a copy? Get one for a friend and make their day a good one!

Happy reading.

 

Free Book Sunday … Again

January 11, 2014
Steve Campbell

All day Sunday (1/12/2014), you can get my latest book, The Green Crystal Stories free for your Kindle. Just follow this web link: The Green Crystal Stories [Kindle Edition]. The book normally sells for $1.99, so make sure the price says FREE.

The Green Crystal Stories is a collection of stories centering on my favorite protagonist, Vree Erickson, and a magic crystal that changes her life. Be prepared for lots of surprises.

Free Book Sunday

December 2, 2013
Steve Campbell

All day Sunday (12/8/2013), you can get my latest book, The Green Crystal Stories free for your Kindle. Just follow this web link: The Green Crystal Stories [Kindle Edition]. The book normally sells for $1.99, so make sure the price says FREE.

The book is a compilation of the five previous books at Amazon, so if you have them, pass the news about this one-day offer on to your friends.

BTW, here is the cover art for book 5, which I forgot to post earlier this year.

So if you’re looking for free books by new good authors (pardon the bragging), mark the day on your calendar. I think you’ll like what you read.

Vanishing, Chapter 3

October 7, 2013
Steve Campbell

Author’s Note: Vanishing is an alternate version of Kismet, a story now available at Amazon. I tried to get the attention of book publishers with this and the two earlier chapters. I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

Heat had blanketed David when a bolt of lightning struck the center of the sinkhole seconds after Lisa fell. Within those seconds, he had felt an explosion in his eyes and skull from the lightning and the plume of green light that erupted from the hole. The force hammered him down until he was on his back, his eyes and head throbbing and fire burning inside his lungs.

Now he sat on his sofa, barely able to breathe, and trying to make sense of what happened.

“Believe in things much greater and far more mysterious than we can explain,” Nancy Pennwater Stephenson said to him inside his living room. He squeezed his eyelids shut. To the right of her, bright morning sunlight had entered the bay window. “When the earthquake struck yesterday, I knew that it had happened. Again.”

“I came home, took a rope back to the hole and went down inside the cave,” David said. “It’s like a giant geode of crystal with no way out but up.” He turned his head until it was out of the sunlight. “So what else can I do?” He looked dumbly at the journal and photograph in his hands. “The police think I’m crazy, that I killed my wife. They don’t believe that she fell into the hole and disappeared.”

“They’ll think you’re insane if you try to tell them the truth,” Nancy said.

“The truth.” David sighed. Then, he looked at the photograph and the journal, both yellowed and faded, yet so tangible—especially the pages of names and addresses and phone numbers … some of them exclusive to him and Lisa. “How?” he said and sat back. “How do I get her back? If she’s in the past, how can I go to where she’s at?”

Nancy sat for a long time and said nothing. Then, “Go to the cave where she vanished. The answer is there. It has to be.”

“And what is the answer?”

“I don’t know. But when you find it, God be with you.” She stood and said goodbye. David unfolded himself from the sofa and showed Nancy Pennwater Stephenson—his daughter from another time, another dimension—to the door. After she had driven away, he sat for an hour and reread Nancy’s journal. After that he prayed. For what it was worth, he got some satisfaction from talking to the supposed ruler of the universe, although most of the one-sided conversation was spent begging for a miracle.

When he stepped from the room, he knew that Nancy was right, as ludicrous as it seemed to the rational part of his mind. The doorway leading to Lisa lay within the cave’s green crystals and the lightning that had struck there.

He prayed again for a miracle, then went to the crystal cave and waited for a miracle.

During the third week of July, not long after another terrible thunderstorm had passed over Myers Ridge, three teenage boys hiking Eagle Rock Incline stumbled upon the sinkhole and cave. Inside, the boys found an overturned tent containing a sleeping bag, a dozen empty cases of canned pastas, soups and vegetables, and three one-gallon containers of store-bought water. They also found some books about lightning, local history from the 1940s, and theories on time travel.

They also found no one inside the cave, alive or dead.

Vanishing, Chapter 2

September 29, 2013
Steve Campbell

Author’s Note: Vanishing is an alternate version of Kismet, a story now available at Amazon. I tried to get the attention of book publishers with this and the previous chapter (along with a third chapter, which I will post in the next few days). I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

Lisa found herself driving aimlessly around town, soaking up the sunlight coming through her sunroof, and heading to nowhere particular. She drove past her parents’ house, decided not to stop, then headed to the drugstore to buy a home pregnancy test. Afterwards, on the drive home, she thought it was stupid to do so, but she wanted so much to see the stick show negative and prove the old woman wrong.

But she knew it would show positive. This was the first day of the past three that she had not vomited after waking in the morning.

“So what if I am pregnant,” she said. “That doesn’t prove anything.”

She caught herself talking aloud, a habit when she was upset.

“That’s right, I talk to myself,” she said. “I wonder if that’s in your stupid book that shocks people, lady.”

The pain in her elbow throbbed, but flared when she turned the steering wheel. She winced and bit her bottom lip as she drove into the driveway of her and David’s cottage home at Alice Lake.

She found David behind the cottage, heading to the deer path that led upwards to Myers Ridge’s Eagle Rock Incline. The college art teacher had painted vistas up there during the past two weeks. Lisa grabbed a bottle of orange Gatorade and tagged along, wanting his company and needing someone to talk to. The crazy woman’s strange conversation echoed in her mind until she unloaded on David the event.

At 630 feet above Ridgewood, she finished and David said, “I know. She called me right after you left. Told me the story of how she believes you’re her mother.”

“She’s insane,” Lisa concluded.

“Precisely what I told her.”

David and Lisa said no more while he set up his easel, canvas, paints and brushes. In front of them was a green vista of ravines and drumlins and several gulches around the blue one-mile spread of Alice Lake below. Every earthly feature had been carved into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago. That included the craggy ridge and its Eagle Rock Incline they stood upon.

As a grade school science teacher, Lisa knew well the geology of the old Pennsylvania hill—a mere remnant of the mountain it once was all those years ago. While David painted, she meandered along the hilltop, careful of the surface erosion and cave-ins where sinkholes threatened to swallow her if she wasn’t careful.

Despite the dangers, the place felt peaceful. It smelled sweet and powdery of life beginning to ripen. Lisa felt the love she had for the place stir. And then the atmosphere changed. A few fat raindrops fell from the cloudless sky and landed upon her arms and cotton blouse, chilling her skin. The sunlight scorched away the chill and wetness, so she returned to meander among the grassy landscape which looked like an old field sprinkled with aspen and birch trees.

It was while she was inspecting the outer edges of a sinkhole when she felt the tremor enter her feet and spread up her legs as Myers Ridge grumbled. The tremor quickly became a quake strong enough to bring down three aspen trees behind her—none of them close enough to strike either her or David.

Next to her, the ground around the sinkhole collapsed. She rolled away from the enlarging hole, then watched loose stone and sod tumble down into it. All around her—and David too, who was several yards away and holding his easel to keep it from toppling—the clash and scream of birds taking flight sounded like someone had ripped open the sky.

The quake, which lasted almost fifteen seconds, stopped.

Lisa stood and saw the sky over Alice Lake had darkened with growing rain clouds, as though an artist had dipped a loaded paintbrush into water. Thunder spoke as the sky over Myers Ridge buzzed with immediate electricity.

Lisa knew about the phenomenon of electricity sounding like the buzzing of bees when a static charge is building between ground and sky. As the sky buzzed, she felt the hair on her arms rise and the skin prickle. The fine hair on her face and neck came alive next.

Charged by electricity, Nancy had said. By the lightning storm.

“No,” she cried, “it isn’t possible.” And she wasn’t referring to the buildup of electricity around her. “People don’t travel in time.”

She called out to David while she scrambled to remove her wedding rings and told him to remove his own ring and anything else made of metal. She said it twice, her voice trembling each time, but he only looked at the sky and scratched the back of his neck. Above them, the sound of angry bees sounded angrier.

She ran to him, took his hand—the one still bearing the wedding band—and hurried him down the path.

A sudden wet wind pushed at their forefronts, slowed their escape, and caused Lisa to shield her eyes from the bits of grass and leaves flying at them. She did not see the green light emanating from the new sinkhole that obliterated the large part of pathway in front of them.

David skidded to a stop, but Lisa went on, not seeing the light and the hole until it was too late. Down she went, tripping over deadwood and rock and plunging into the light that filled the hole.

Inside the light, she fell long, and her screams resounded against the force that pulled her down, her mind fearful of what lay waiting for her at the bottom of the abyss.

[To be continued…]

Vanishing, Chapter 1

September 21, 2013
Steve Campbell

Author’s Note: Vanishing is an alternate version of Kismet, a story now available at Amazon. I tried to get the attention of book publishers with this chapter (along with two more chapters, which I will post in the next few days). I never had any takers, but I never gave up on the story.

“Don’t think me insane,” the old woman said. “You are my mother.”

Lisa Evans, a twenty-something redhead, remained smiling politely, though a frown had bitten into her otherwise unblemished forehead.

“Surely you’re joking,” she said from her seat at Carol’s Diner.

The old woman across the table said, “As I told you on the phone, my name is Nancy Pennwater Stephenson. I’m from Pittsburgh and I have a book that proves much of what I’m about to tell you.” She sniffled, took a Kleenex from her white wool coat wrapped tightly around her, and brought it shakily to her blue nose. Her nails were painted poppy red and matched the color of her lipstick. She shivered despite the June day’s sudden heat wave that had made its way inside the small air-conditioned diner.

Lisa stirred her cup of tea and looked around. Except for two Amish fellows at the front counter, they were alone.

She said, “Look, I’m twenty-five. You’re definitely much too old to be my daughter.” She smiled kindly, unsure of how to proceed. “You understand that, don’t you?”

“I’m not senile.” Nancy returned the Kleenex to her pocket. “Nor am I insane.” With two wrinkled, blue-gray hands, she hefted her large, black leather purse from her lap and placed it next to her cup of tea on the table. “Before I show you the book,” she said, “I need to explain who I am and why you must believe me.” She picked up her cup and blew at the tea inside before she slurped. “Delicious,” she said. Then, “My father—I mean, the man who raised me—was a physician—Henry Pennwater. He was passing through Ridgewood in 1934, visiting a friend after both had attended a convention at Philadelphia. This friend, Dr. William Geddes, used to vacation here at a place called Alice Lake. Henry claimed it’s very beautiful there.

“The two of them—Henry and Geddes—were hiking along a ridgeline behind the lake and Geddes’s cottage when they discovered a young woman injured and in shock. She went into a coma before the two were able to get her to the cottage where they further treated her injuries. They later transported her to a facility in Philadelphia where she resided in a coma for nine years.

“During her first months while comatose, it became obvious to the hospital staff that the woman—their mysterious Jane Doe patient—was pregnant. I was born eight months later. However, I would never know this until just a few years ago when, on her deathbed, Rachel—Henry’s sister—told me about Jane giving birth to me while in a coma.”

Nancy took a black leather book from her purse. She said, “Henry took me in when no relatives of my mother’s were found. He and Rachel raised me. For years, I was Rachel’s daughter, even when Jane—that’s what we called you. No one knew your identity until—”

“Excuse me,” Lisa said, leaning closer and lowering her voice. “I can see that you believe what you’re telling me, but—”

“Listen. You were brought to us after you awoke from your coma nine years later. I took this photograph of you with my Instamatic camera a year later.” Nancy took a black and white photograph from the book and handed it to Lisa. When Lisa reluctantly took it, a quick spark of static electricity snapped at her fingers. She flinched but gripped the photo and raised it to the daylight streaming through the window at her left. A sad-looking woman stared back at her from a wheelchair. Her anorexic body was lost in an oversized sweatshirt and Capri slacks, and her pale face looked very much like Lisa’s.

“Okay,” Lisa said. “There is a slight resemblance.” She turned the photo over. On the back, someone had elegantly written in blue ink, Jane—1943. “But I never lived during this time.”

“The coma left your body twisted and crippled and in excruciating pain. And your short-term memory was completely nonexistent—you could never remember one day from the next, which caused you grief and torment—you wanted so much to remember your past. But the drugs Henry gave you kept you sedated most of the time.”

Lisa tossed the photo back to the table’s center, then searched Nancy’s face for a glimmer that she was pulling a cruel hoax on her. There was no glimmer, not even the smallest inkling.

She said, “And how did I manage to give birth to you in 1939—”

“1940. The thirteenth of February. I missed being a valentine baby by one day.”

Lisa looked away. Outside the window next to her, Franklin Street in Ridgewood glowed in the sunlight. Three normal, sane boys on bicycles rode by, each in matching summer attire of white T-shirts and blue jeans. Her husband and family and friends were out there, too, among the sane. And until the phone call earlier, she had considered talking her husband into readying the patio grill for supper that evening. Something a lot of sane people did.

“Okay,” she said as she returned her attention on Nancy, “you drove from Pittsburgh, called me from this diner and convinced me to meet with you, just to tell me … what? That I somehow lived in the past, fell into a coma, and gave birth to you? Why? And more importantly, why would you think anyone would believe such a story?”

“Because,” Nancy said, “as crazy as it seems, it’s true.” She held up a hand to stifle Lisa’s protest. “When I was fifteen, I became interested in nursing and medicine and the ideal of eradicating all diseases. I convinced Henry to allow me to start you on an exercise program—physical therapy we call it today.

“During those several months, your health began to improve, so Henry decreased your pain medicine. That’s when you began to confide in me and tell me about ovens that could cook food in seconds, and people communicating to each other through their television sets and sending photographs by telephone. I never believed you, of course; it was 1949, after all.”

She held up the black book. “I kept a daily journal of everything you told me. It’s all here, just as you described it to me, including your name, your husband’s name, and your parents, along with dates, addresses and phone numbers” She placed the photograph inside the book. “Of course, I attributed those so-thought illusions to whatever had put you in your coma. But years later, after I came across my journal, I did some investigating. The information inside matches everything you told me all those years ago.” She held out the book for Lisa to take.

Lisa reached for the book and felt sudden heat emit from its cover. She hesitated, then took hold of the book. A surge of electricity filled her fingers and shot pain through her hand and wrist and into her elbow. She recoiled from the offering, dropping the book in the middle of the table. She cursed at the pain that throbbed inside her hand and arm as she pushed her way out of her seat and stood. She said, “I don’t know why you chose me to screw with, lady, but—”

“I’m sorry about the static electricity,” Nancy said. She rubbed her hand where she had been shocked as well. “I think it has to do with the you in the past touching the book and leaving on it an electrical signature … scientific extrapolation of which I don’t fully understand.”

“Well, whatever it is, you can keep it to yourself.” Lisa pulled two dollars from a pocket of her brown cargo pants, slapped the bills on the table, then said, “This conversation is over.”

“You killed yourself,” Nancy said, hissing the words. “When your memories returned, you couldn’t live with the truth, couldn’t live without David. I’m trying to keep that from happening again.”

“Get some help, Nancy. It’s obvious you believe in something totally impossible.”

“Please, Lisa, it’s going to happen again. You said there was an earthquake before you fell, before you traveled from this time to—”

“Stop it.” Lisa lowered her voice. “Listen to yourself. How can you really think—”

“You’re pregnant.”

Lisa paused, surprised by the sudden … revelation, or lucky guess? Then she said, “No, I’m not.”

“Test it. Prove me wrong. But I know the morning sickness has started. Everything you told me all those years ago is about to happen again if you don’t stop it now. And the first thing you must do is stay off Myers Ridge. That’s where the crystal cave is, the one you fell into, the one charged by electricity by the lightning storm.”

Lisa placed her palms on the table and glared at Nancy.

“I’ve explored many caves at the ridge,” she said, “and there’s no crystal cave. And what’s more important: there’s no such thing as time travel. Now do yourself a favor and find a good psychiatrist.”

She pushed away and hurried toward the front door.

“Wait,” Nancy said. Then, “It’s up to you to change things,” she called out. “Change the future.” She lowered her voice as Lisa stormed outdoors. “Change the future for all of us.”

[To be continued…]

Trespassers, part 2

June 17, 2013
Steve Campbell

© 2006 by Steven L Campbell.

Fred Shafer eyed an emerald-colored family-type van enter the near-empty K-mart parking lot in Ridgewood. As it parked a few spaces next to his Impala, he leered past the old car’s passenger seat and out an open window. A thirty-something woman bundled in white imitation fur slid from the van’s driver’s seat and dropped onto the black pavement. She wore her dark auburn hair shoulder length and was dressed in black jeans and black pumps. She opened a red umbrella, looked up at the dark, galling sky, and held up a hand as though trying to catch a raindrop. Then she reached far inside the van for a white purse before she hurried across the sparsely lighted lot and entered the store.

Fred began to breathe again. He had strained hard to hear the blip from the door lock gizmo on her keychain. Now he couldn’t believe his good fortune: He’d make it to Florida after all.

He took a long swig of ice coffee from his red thermos, squeezed his large body out from behind the steering wheel, and left the useless car he’d stolen yesterday from that black man in New York.

He licked the chilled air. He hadn’t wanted to return to Ridgewood, but his money had gone quickly and the Impala he’d stolen sucked up the gasoline.

He caressed the last of his savings from home and looked at the van in contempt as he crossed behind it. “Damn women are always driving these gas hogs,” he said. Then he saw the MY CHILD IS AN HONOR STUDENT bumper sticker and added, “Honor this,” as he took his hand from his shirt pocket and raised a middle finger.

He threw the empty thermos into an abandoned grocery cart and opened the van’s hydraulic sliding door. A strange musical sound came from inside when the door pulled from his grasp and opened itself.

The roomy rear interior contained two rows of bench seats. Plastic toys, some children’s books, and a box of loose crayons littered the first seat. A day planner had fallen behind the passenger seat. Fred opened the book. His victim had a name. He wondered if he would say it when he raped her. He usually didn’t know his victims’ names.

He flipped away the planner, climbed inside on all fours, closed the door (which actually closed itself when he pulled at the handle), and hunkered on the floor of the back row seat. When his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw a crumpled bag from McDonalds beneath the seat in front of him. He found cold fries inside and savored their salty taste while he waited.

The van was warm. Great drippings of sweat pooled across his forehead and mixed with the rain there. He undid the top three buttons of his flannel jacket before he wiped his fat face with his sleeves. He was a short, floppy man with red hair that seemed to explode from his head. He had a mocking thick-lipped face that appeared anxious to snicker from behind his pudgy grease-stained fingers always lurking there. And his bulbous brown eyes—not so much looking as unable to relax—were forever in motion.

Finally the dome lights came on and the woman got in. She tossed a couple of plastic bags on the passenger seat and started the van. A pleasant tone reminded her to buckle up. She jabbed at the radio and a tearjerker song from the quadraphonic speakers encircled her and a mostly concealed Fred.

Fred barely heard the click as she fastened her seat belt. Large wipers slapped across a panoramic windshield in tune to the music as he strained to hear. He almost dared to laugh out loud when she put the van in gear, drove onto the nearly deserted main street, and headed east away from downtown Ridgewood.

When he slowly crawled through the darkness and crouched behind her seat, he estimated they had gone about two miles. He took the black Smith & Wesson M&P pistol from the belt holster of his sagging blue jeans and pressed the gun into the back of her neck. She jumped and he heard the sudden intake of air as she gasped. It made him grin.

“Pull over, Karen,” he said. “Pull over, or I’m gonna blow your brains out.”

“Who … who are you?” She was trembling and no longer looking at the road, staring instead into the rearview mirror, trying to see the man behind her. The van was on the wrong side of the two-lane highway.

“Pull over!” Fred shoved the barrel of the pistol against the base of her skull to show her he was serious. She cut the wheel sharply to the right and drove the van hard onto the berm. Fred held tight to her seat and chuckled at the idea of the gun going off and blowing out her brains.

“Damn women,” he muttered. He ordered a shaken Karen to park the van at the roadside and to leave the engine running. When she did, he grabbed her purse and bags from the passenger seat and ordered her into the vacant seat.

She fumbled to undo her seat belt. “Please don’t kill me,” she pleaded. Her stare reflected lightning in the corner of her wet and anxious eyes.

Fred came close to slapping her. No matter how many times he did this it was always the same: Please don’t kill me.

“If you don’t do what I say, I’m gonna do worse than kill you.”

She got unbuckled and Fred pushed her into the passenger seat.

“Buckle up,” he grumbled at her. He pointed the pistol at her and waited until he heard the shoulder harness fasten to the belt. Keeping the gun aimed at her head with his right hand and holding her purse and bag with his left, he climbed into the driver’s seat. It was a difficult maneuver because of his size. This was Karen’s chance to get away, he reasoned, but she remained seated, shaking, and gulping for air.

“Thanks for staying for the ride, Karen,” he said and settled behind the steering wheel. As he adjusted the seat to his liking, she suddenly rattled out several questions in a raspy voice. “Why are you doing this? What do you want? How do you know my name?” She began to bawl.

“Shut up.” Fred took a cell phone from her purse and tossed it out the window. It clattered onto pavement and splashed as it landed in a large puddle. He kissed the wet air before he rolled up the window.

“I have money.”

“Look, lady, if you wanna live you’ll shut up.” He threw the purse and bag at her and pulled the van back onto the road. They hadn’t gone far when she began to gag.

“I’m gonna throw up,” she said, her voice shaky as she clutched her purse and bag close to her throat.

“Forget about it.”

She began to hiccup.

“If you’re gonna hurl, then you’ll have do it inside. I ain’t stopping.”

“Please pull over.”

“Hurl in your lap.” He chuckled, and then scowled because of his sudden outburst. He had to compose himself and remain serious. He had plenty of time to laugh when his crime was over.

Suddenly her window was down and she was vomiting out the side of the van. The wind swept most of it back inside and onto her coat.

“Yum, tasty,” Fred chuckled in spite of himself. “Always better the second time around.”

“Screw you,” she muttered under her breath.

Fred stopped laughing. “Roll that window back up or I’m gonna shoot you where you sit. Now! And turn off that damn music! Stuff makes a person insane.” The pistol cracked to life as he fired a .40 caliber slug into the van’s roof. The moment was thunderous and disquieting, and Karen leaped to obey his orders. While she did so, Fred attacked the automatic door lock on the door panel and locked the two of them inside. He checked the gas gauge and saw that the tank was almost full. He smiled big yellow dentures that appeared sinister and green from the dashboard’s electronic lights. “You get comfy and enjoy the ride.”

Her question came on a whisper: “Where are you taking me?”

His mocking smile widened. “You just enjoy the ride,” he repeated.

She sunk further into her seat. He picked his fat nose and drove deep into the woods south of Ridgewood. After the rape, he planned to drive all night and be in Virginia by morning, long before those roly-poly Ridgewood donut eaters or the PA patrol boys started their searches for a missing van. By then, she would be dead like the others, her body deep in some mountain woods in northern Maryland.

That was the plan and it made him almost giddy. He struggled to remain focused as he spotted a man, tall and lean, standing in the middle of the road.

Fred pulled to the left to pass. The man stepped in front of him. Fred yanked the wheel to the right. The van swayed and the man again stepped in front of the van. With no time to react, Fred plowed through him. Karen screamed. A plume of red lights shot into the night air, but no sickening thump of running over a body rocked the van. Fred searched in the mirrors for any sign of a body behind them. There was none.

Fred ordered Karen quiet as he puzzled over what he had seen. Then, ahead, a man identical to the first one stepped in front of the van.

“Another one?” Fred punched the gas pedal and plowed into the man. Again, there was no collision. Just the hiss of red lights and the swish of rain striking against the van. Karen began to bawl again, this time hysterically.

“Shut the hell up,” Fred growled as he again searched the darkness in the rearview mirrors.

As the van crested a hill, another man identical to the last two stepped onto the road and into the van’s path.

“Son’bitch,” Fred shouted. “Somebody’s let the loonies out.”

When he speeded into the man, the van’s engine stalled. Fred threw the gearshift into neutral and tried to restart the van. The engine squawked in protest and refused to start. Dismayed, he coasted the van to a turnaround at the bottom of the hill. There he pressed the pistol against Karen’s skull as the mysterious man approached her door.

Fred shouted, “I have a gun.”

The dome light popped on and the van’s alarm sounded when Karen’s locked door opened. Fred shivered and squeezed the trigger. The pistol jammed and Karen struggled from her restraint. She fell freely into the man’s long arms. A deep, male voice clanged like bell chimes. “There’s a house a quarter-mile up the road, Karen. Call the police.” Then the man released her.

She stumbled away and Norman Gentry turned to face Fred and the Smith & Wesson. Fred’s eyes widened when he looked Norman’s thin, gray face and whiskered chin.

The alarm stilled and the inside returned to grayness. Norman’s deep voice clanged again like bell chimes, this time from Karen’s seat. “Where are you going, Fred? On another joyride to Virginia? Or are you going on to Florida like last year? Biscayne Bay wasn’t it?”

Fred shrank in his seat and continued to stare at the man who bore the striking exactness of every picture he had ever seen of President Abraham Lincoln.

Norman’s voice chimed louder. “Everyone knows Abraham Lincoln is dead.”

Fred coughed and felt bile rise from his stomach. He looked at Norman’s faded army coat and the old army cap stuck with several fishing flies. “Who are you, mister? What d’you want?”

Norman was silent for a moment. The whites of his eyes glowed crimson as he stared at Fred. Fred’s large body shrank some more until the pistol in his hand grew heavy. Then Norman said, “Where did you get the gun, Fred?”

Fred’s throat tightened. He gurgled. “It’s mine.”

“That’s a policeman’s weapon, Fred. It was stolen five years ago from the Ridgewood Police Department.”

Fred choked back a denial.

“It belongs to a missing police officer, Fred. Her name is Rita Malloy. Remember her?”

Fred tried to speak. He shook his head instead, his eyes searching the darkness at his left for an escape route. He saw none.

Norman squinted hard at him. “Were you going to shoot me with Rita’s gun, Fred?”

Fred shook his head again and managed to utter a whispery uh-uh through the phlegm collecting in the back of his throat.

“Who were you going to shoot, Fred?”

Fred choked out an answer. “I-I … nobody.”

“Are you sure?” Norman laughed and bell chimes tolled in Fred’s ears. A cold hand closed around Fred’s and effortlessly took away the gun. Norman’s eyes sparkled in rapid and brilliant flashes of pointed light dancing red and yellow, back and forth.

“Isn’t that why you kidnapped Karen White tonight? Weren’t you planning to rape and kill her like the other women, Fred?”

Fred’s voice became small and girlish as he denied it.

“But you were. I know you were. Let me show you how you were going to do it, Fred.”

The rainy windshield cleared and lit up with fractured moonlight streaming past bare tree branches overhead. The rain and road were gone. They were inside woods Fred didn’t recognize. In front of them, they looked upon a van identical to the one they sat in. The driver’s door of that van opened and Fred watched himself stumble out of it, then hurry to the passenger door and pull Karen White out.

Norman said, “You know those pictures of lonely clowns and homeless puppies and starving children, Fred? That’s how she looks right now. Just like the others. Just like Rita when she begged you for her life.”

Fred tried to close his eyes, tried to look away, but he no longer controlled his eyes. He watched his other self do what he had planned to do later, out of Pennsylvania. It was brutal and bloody.

“Stop,” he said.

“Are you going to vomit?” Norman grinned. “Hurl in your lap, Fred. I ain’t stopping.”

In the windshield, the other Fred finished the rape. He collapsed on Karen’s body and rested. Then he rolled away. Her body looked lifeless next to his. His great stomach heaved as he caught his breath. Then he sat up, wheezed, pushed himself to his knees, wheezed some more, and stood and staggered toward the van while zipping his pants. That’s when Karen’s left arm moved. Her fingers wrapped around some dark object. She rolled on her left side and fired five rounds from Fred’s pistol until the other Fred fell to his knees, wheezed deep and hard, and then fell backwards and stopped breathing. The windshield went dark.

“She would have killed you there, Fred. But I’m not going to let that happen.”

Fred turned and cast a bewildered gaze at Norman’s glowing red eyes. “You’re not?”

“No.”

Fred whispered, afraid he would sound intrusive if he spoke out loud. “What are you gonna do?” Then he cowered while he waited for an answer, terrified he had offended the thing sitting next to him, terrified the devil Lucifer himself had come to take what little sanity he had left.

Norman’s eyes sparkled in another flashing array of red. His gaze never left Fred’s as he pulled from his right pocket a sheet of paper folded in half. He placed the paper on the dashboard, opened the door, and assaulted Fred’s eyes with the dome light and his ears with the car alarm. The rain pushed inside past Norman’s body as he stepped out.

“Someone wants to see you.”

Red lights danced outside the door. Then a young woman wearing a black sweatshirt with Ridgewood Police lettered across the front got in. Sadness edged her pale green eyes framed by ragged hair that had once been short and strawberry blonde. The ghost’s papery voice hissed at him although her pallid face remained calm. “Remember me, Fred? Remember when you kidnapped me that night in my driveway five years ago as I was going to work.”

Fred shook his head in denial as his memory deceived him into remembering the lust he’d felt upon seeing pretty Rita Malloy at the K-Mart store. Only, he hadn’t known she was a police officer. Not until he had actually paid attention to her shirt after she became his prisoner.

The edges of Rita’s eyes burned red. “I never made it to the station. You raped me, Fred, at knifepoint. Stabbed me in the stomach when you were through. But I didn’t die. So you shot me with my weapon when I tried to escape. Left me for the wild dogs and coyotes. The remains of my body have never been found.”

Fred shook his head harder as the memory haunted him. “No. Not true.”

“Then where did you get my gun, Fred?”

Fred looked at the pistol pointed at him. He closed his eyes.

“You took my money,” Rita said, “went to Atlantic City, didn’t you? Won nine hundred and seventy-five dollars. Dismantled my car down there and scattered away the parts, piece by piece.”

Fred covered his ears.

Rita aimed her pistol at his forehead. Fred saw it in his mind.

He was certain Rita’s pistol would not jam now.

***

Thirty minutes later, when the Pennsylvania State Police officers found Fred Shafer’s body in the driver’s seat of Karen White’s van, they were certain his death had been a suicide. Rita Malloy’s government-issued pistol was in his right hand, his index finger on the trigger. On the dashboard, the police found a sketched map on yellowed paper showing them the location of Rita’s body.

At the bottom of the page, the map contained an elegant scrawl.

Abe, it said; nothing more.

Trespassers, part 1

June 9, 2013
Steve Campbell

You may read various versions of this story, but this is closest to the original content. Enjoy.

© 2006 by Steven L Campbell.

A Friday evening blood-red sun sank eye-to-eye with Myers Ridge and blistered the west side of the craggy peak to look like a plug of magma. But Myers Ridge and its Eagle Rock Incline had not been forged by fire from the earth’s interior; they had been pushed into existence by great sheets of ice more than ten thousand years ago, and Myers Ridge’s deep limestone bowels were filled with tunnels and caves as cold as the day it was born. From its chilly repose, the ridge seemed to awaken with a shudder, as though frightened to be cast in a redness that threatened to scorch drier its valleys of evergreen and deciduous trees.

Deep inside and miles below the ridge’s icy chambers, the internal earth erupted and hurled carbon into the ridge at supersonic speed. Millions of gallons of underground lake water quickly cooled the carbon into diamonds and shot steam to the surface. The old Pennsylvania hill—a mere remnant of the mountain it once was—grumbled and shook down trees and rock. Several caves collapsed. Loose stone and sod tumbled down hillsides and spilled into unpopulated creeks and ravines. All around, small animals hissed and shrieked and scurried into burrows. Black bear stood and roared. Deer crashed through thickets, their eyes wide and their breath quick and snorting through flared nostrils. The clash and scream of bats and birds and ducks and geese taking flight sounded like someone had ripped open the August sky. Thousands of these dark winged creatures detonated into evening’s crimson inferno.

The tremor, which lasted almost fifteen seconds, stopped. Myers Ridge and many of its creatures settled.

Inside the ancient depths of an underground lake, a long plume of silver cloud rose from the ashes. Red and yellow bristle-pointed lights radiated from within the elongated cloud, boiled the lake, and sparked nearby stone into fire. Like overcooked blackened eggs, several geodes burst open and gave up their multicolored crystals to flame. Even the diamonds there were blistered into obsidian-like cinders.

The silver cloud lifted and turned and shifted, squirmed its way topside, and summoned the heavens for electricity. The red sky outside pitched along its horizons and gave birth to thunderclouds. An uneasy crow lumbered lonely above the ridge and cawed sharply for its scattered mates that had left him during the tremor. No answer came. The crow squawked as if it were annoyed to be left by itself.

The cloud shrilled and sent darts of red light from its brumous interior. The crow cried out and lumbered to get away from the oncoming attack, its black wings flapping hard to gain altitude. The lights pierced its body as the crow flapped higher into the blood-red skylight until its wings flapped no more.

The lights returned next to the cloud. A swarm of yellow lights exited the cloud and stood with the red lights, pulsating like thousands of miniature hearts. The silver cloud thundered at the sky for electricity. Equal thunder answered from the horizons; the sky around Myers Ridge buzzed with immediate electricity.

***

“Take off your ring,” Lisa told him. Her voice trembled. She threw her own rings onto her sleeping bag.

“But—”

“Hurry. Get rid of everything metal.” Lisa undid her belt from her blue jeans and threw the belt aside. Her cell phone—the new red one she had bought last week—followed and clattered against her rings inside the tent. Her long auburn hair frizzed and the ends danced in the air, almost alive. Then she had her hands inside his pockets, pulling them inside-out. His keys and loose change clattered against his folded painter’s easel between their sleeping bags, waiting like him for the approaching storm to pass.

“What’s going on?” David Evans scratched his neck where he felt tiny insects crawling on the hairs. His wedding ring vibrated on his finger. He stared at his hand.

“David.” His mind emerged from the thought that something extraordinary was happening. “We’re inside an electrical charge.”

Wind pushed them across Myers Ridge when she pulled him from the tent. Then he was up and racing with Lisa toward the woods. Above the wind came the sound of angry bees.

“Lightning.” David barely heard Lisa’s voice. “We’ve got to get to lower ground.”

Rain broke from the sky and slashed their backs. Lisa reached for his hand—the one still bearing the wedding band—and they ran inside the woods, along the trail that led to Ron and Josie McCutcheon’s ranch house a half-mile away.

Thunderclouds churned and rumbled. Lisa pulled him over briars and deadwood and rock. The trail’s unevenness jolted them; the ground tilted to the left and she fell. He dove after her and landed at the edge of a sinkhole. The hole was large enough to swallow his Sequoia parked safely at Ron and Josie’s.

His boys were there with Josie; he had to rescue their mother.

Lisa’s rain- and mud-streaked forearms rose from a cloud of silver fog that filled the hole. Her hands clutched a tree root above the cloud.

“Help me,” she called from inside the swirling cloud. “I can’t hold on.”

Her hands were out of reach, but David still reached out to save her. That’s when the rain stopped. Heat suddenly blanketed his back as a bolt of lightning struck the cloud. He felt an explosion in his skull. Electricity hammered the bones in his outstretched arm before he screamed and rolled away.

His head throbbed; fire tore inside his arm. The air cooled and the rain started again. He scrambled on his belly closer to the edge of the sinkhole and called Lisa’s name. The cloud was gone. So was Lisa.

***

One mile east of Myers Ridge, the only angler hitched his sharp-angled shoulders and returned to casting his line from the shoreline rollicking from the tremor. Long ripples reflected broken red skylight across Alice Lake.

Norman Gentry’s reflection was that of funhouse mirrors. When the lake flattened, a face like Abraham Lincoln’s looked back at him. Norman was almost certain that Lincoln had never seen sixty.

Happy birthday, he reminded himself as he fished for his supper at the lake he called home.

His lake—Alice Lake—used to be a good lake, tormented many years by industrial dumping until the plastics factory in town moved overseas in 1990. EPA claimed the lake clean again last year, but only a few ever ventured to eat from waters that still maintained a mysterious middle.

Good trout ran downstream, he’d heard, but no fish from Alice Lake had killed him yet. He knew how to recognize cancer sores on his fish, and he knew good meat by its smell before he put it to butter, lemon, and salt and pepper.

Bars of silver flashed close to his dock. He cast his line and hooked a minnow. He cast again and brought in a bluegill. He cast and forgot everything on earth except the lake until the rain came.

“Are you going to ignore me all night?”

She stood behind him and was bright, too bright, and came closer and closer and finally stopped just behind his back. He ducked round, away from her heat. Her long auburn hair was aflame upon a slim figure in a burning array of silver.

Yellow lights sparkled above her right shoulder; red lights above her left.

“Choose,” she said.

An invisible torch swept over him. Her wide grin thrilled him abruptly and sorely. Only two or three women from town ever looked at him that way, and she wasn’t any of them.

Her beauty inside the fire stopped him. There was nothing but dry gravel in his throat as he tried to speak. He drank in the rain that got past the licking flames consuming him, and he managed to cough a bit and feel his face flush in the heat.

The slim point of his fishing rod bowed to the dancing water under the elm trees before he released his hold of the rod to accept the kindling voice that sang him to bed.

To be continued

Powered by WordPress.com.
%d bloggers like this: